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Law Dean Resigns Over Hostile Work Environment Allegations

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 30, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Maybe Eric Dannenmaier, former dean at Northern Illinois University College of Law, saw the writing on the wall.

Two women alleged that he created a "hostile work environment" when they worked for the dean as temporary staff at the law school last summer. An investigation found he violated university policy, but did not confirm the hostile workplace claims.

Before school trustees could act on the report, Dannenmaier resigned. He said he was "highly shocked" by the allegations, but chose to resign rather than distract the law school.

Hostile Work Environment

However it could have played out, the dean's abrupt resignation certainly spared the school a potentially embarrassing, drawn-out, and costly process. Dannenmaier had been dean for only a year, and was on leave since February when he first learned of the allegations.

"I will likely never understand how they could interpret any of my words or actions as creating a hostile work environment or what motivated the complaint months after the communications alleged," he wrote in his resignation letter.

The law school investigation revealed no details, but Dannenmaier conceded that "for some at the law school, I pushed too far too fast." He pointed out that there were no allegations of "inappropriate touching" or "quid pro quo requests."

If he didn't read the writing on the wall there, maybe Dannenmaier read about what happened to the former dean at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Sex Harassment

Sujit Choudhry resigned as dean at Berkeley last year after a former assistant sued him for sexual harassment. The university recently settled the case, agreeing to pay $1.7 million to the accuser and her attorneys.

Tyann Sorrell alleged in her complaint that the dean hugged, kissed, and touched her repeatedly in 2014 and 2015 and that the university did nothing to stop it. Choudhry agreed to pay $100,000 in a separate agreement, but denied the allegations. He said the public backlash was most devastating.

"I became too frightened to leave my own home, an exiled pariah," he said. "I watched helplessly as my reputation as an academic administrator, a scholar, a husband, a father and a friend crumbled in a matter of days."

Dannenmaier's case is different than Choudhry's -- except that they were both deans at prominent law schools who resigned under pressure after being accused by women of improper workplace behavior.

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