Former UC Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry, who resigned amidst allegations of sexual harassment and preferential treatment, claims that he is the victim of race discrimination.
In 2014 and 2015, Mr. Choudhry’s former assistant, Tyann Sorrell, claims that he repeatedly harassed her through unsolicited touches that included hugs, kisses and arm rubs. At a University disciplinary hearing, Mr. Choudhry admitted to most of the allegations, but denied some of the specifics. The University ordered him to forfeit one-tenth of his $415,000 annual salary, apologize to Ms. Sorrell, and seek counseling. Ms. Sorrell subsequently filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that she had been sexually harassed and that UC Berkeley essentially gave Mr. Choudhry “a slap on the wrist” in response. In the wake of that action, Mr. Choudhry resigned as dean but remained a tenured professor of law.
After University President Janet Napolitano sought additional sanctions against Mr. Choudhry, including removing his tenure and not giving him any classes to teach, he filed his own lawsuit. He alleged that white tenured professors accused of sexual harassment faced lesser punishment and that the University could not discipline him again over the same matter.
Mr. Choudhry demands unspecified damages and an injunction against further University disciplinary proceedings.
Alleged Race Discrimination in Employment
Mr. Choudhry’s discrimination lawsuit is a disparate treatment action, since he claims that the University treated him differently because of his race. In these cases, sometimes there is direct evidence of discrimination. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that the phrase “recent college graduate” in employment listings violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the agency has not made a similar finding regarding the phrase “digital native,” but that may be next.
However, most racial discrimination cases rely on circumstantial evidence. According to the Supreme Court of the United States, the requirements for a prima facie I circumstantial case are:
- Membership in a Protected Class: The complainant must belong to a protected class enumerated in the Civil Rights Act or other legislation (e.g. non-white, female, over 40, or disabled)
- Otherwise Qualified: A paralegal cannot apply for a job as an auto mechanic and claim discrimination when the employer selects another candidate. Likewise, if the adverse decision is a demotion or termination, the complainant must have been performing the job adequately.
- Damages: The complainant must have been fired, demoted, passed over for promotion, or otherwise have suffered some tangible harm.
- Outcome: To make a prima facie case, the benefit (job or promotion) must either still be available, or it must have gone to a person who is outside the complainant’s protected class (this means that if a disabled person complains, another disabled person cannot get the promotion).
To rebut a claim, the employer can produce a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. For example, ABC company can claim that it fired a worker because of poor performance reviews and not because the worker was black. The claimant can then counter that this justification was simply a pretext for discrimination.
In the above case, Mr. Choudhry, who is of Indian descent, claims that he was treated differently than two other non-Indian employees in similar situations, and that he is ineligible for pay increases because he is not teaching classes. In response, UC Berkeley has two basic arguments. First, Mr. Choudhry is still a tenured professor and has therefore hast not sustained damages.
Secondly, although the other two professors may have been in similar situations, neither one of them had been the dean of the law school.
If you feel you are a victim of race discrimination at work, our California employment attorneys are here to fight for your employee rights. Contact our passionate legal team at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation today.