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Lawsuit Accuses Prominent Law School Dean Of Sexual Harassment (And More)

Dean Lawrence Mitchell

Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell of Case Western Reserve University School of Law is not your ordinary law school dean. How many other deans have been the subject of an ATL caption contest?

Case Western is a prominent and well-ranked law school, #68 in the latest U.S. News rankings. It didn’t make the ATL Law School rankings, which stop at the top 50, but Case Western alumni give their alma mater a solid B-plus, as you can see from the school’s ATL Career Center profile.

But Mitchell’s fame comes less from Case Western and more from his national profile as a defender of legal education. Last year, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, Law School Is Worth the Money, that went viral.

Critics of Mitchell’s piece, including my colleague Elie Mystal, accused the dean of screwing over his students. Case Western charges tuition of almost $50,000, but less than 50 percent of its graduates secure full-time, long-term employment as lawyers, according to Law School Transparency.

Today Dean Mitchell is back in the news. A lawsuit filed this morning alleges that he screws his students more literally….

(See the UPDATE added below for the university’s response to the complaint.)

Here’s a report on the lawsuit from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Case Western Reserve Law Professor Raymond Ku filed a lawsuit today against Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell and the university alleging that he reported that Mitchell had potentially sexually harassed woman and suffered retaliation. Ku, a former associate dean of the at the law school, reported in 2011 potential instances of Mitchell harassing law school faculty and staff, according to the civil law suit filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court….

Ku alleges that he made reports to the university’s provost, vice president for diversity and faculty diversity officer. Ku said he personally witnessed Mitchell caressing a female staff member at a party and was made aware of allegations by other women at the university that Mitchell had made inappropriate comments to others.

Well, maybe Dean Mitchell is just a touchy-feely sort of guy. We used a cropped version in the caption contest, but here’s the original image, showing Dean Mitchell with a student (click to enlarge):

The complaint does not detail the “inappropriate comments” allegedly made by Dean Mitchell to women he worked with. But it does include, as an exhibit to the complaint, a flyer that was apparently distributed at a January 2012 City Club where Mitchell appeared to speak about legal education. The flyer, entitled “Questions Someone Should Ask Dean Mitchell,” included the following queries and allegations:

  • Dean Mitchell, about half of all law students today are female. What should female law students expect from a dean who, in his short time in Cleveland, has already had affairs with a Case graduate student, a recent Case law grad, a local lawyer, and the girlfriend of our personal assistant?
  • Dean Mitchell, even though your four divorces may not by themselves raise questions about your fitness to control the education of young women, does the fact that one of them is a former student of yours raise any flags?
  • Dean Mitchell, what does it say about your attitude toward female students that you joked to Case faculty memers that the Case graduate student you were having an affair with “wasn’t good for anything but keeping the bed warm”?
  • Dean Mitchell, why [is] a man who doesn’t care about legal education and who regards women as objects of exploration dean of the law school?

In that last paragraph, I suspect that “objects of exploration” should be “objects of exploitation” (although I suppose that the former could work too, depending on what he’s into).

The complaint also alleges, in paragraph 75, that a former Case Western administrative staff member complained to the provost, W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III, that Dean Mitchell had engaged in sexual relations with a current law student. Shortly thereafter, according to the complaint, this staffer was reassigned briefly, then terminated (supposedly for “budgetary reasons”).

The plaintiff in today’s lawsuit, Professor Raymond Ku, is not a woman who was harassed by Dean Mitchell (although Professor Ku alleges that Dean Mitchell made inappropriate comments about Ku’s race, religion, and circumcision status). What is the basis of his complaint?

Retaliation. Here’s a concise summary of what allegedly happened to Professor Ku after he complained about Dean Mitchell to Provost Baeslack and other university officials, from Crain’s Cleveland Business:

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Mitchell retaliated against Mr. Ku by, among other things, threatening to fire him; ending all face-to-face communication with him; stripping him of his responsibilities as associate dean; working to discredit him among his colleagues on the faculty; discontinuing his co-directorship of the Center for Law, Technology and the Arts; and cutting Mr. Ku’s compensation.

Ku is represented by Subodh Chandra and Ashlie Case Sletvold of The Chandra Law Firm LLC. They’ve issued a press release about the lawsuit, urging people to email them at MitchellInfo@ChandraLaw.com with information about the dean.

We reached out to Dean Mitchell for comment but have not yet heard back. University officials declined comment to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Crain’s Cleveland Business.

UPDATE (1:10 p.m.): Here is the university’s statement:

This situation is categorically not an instance of retaliation. Professor Ku continues to hold a full-time, tenured faculty position at the School of Law. The lawsuit itself includes inaccuracies, as well as an inflammatory flier that has been found to be materially false. The university will have additional comment upon more thorough review of the suit and opposing counsel’s press release.

We’ll continue to monitor this case as it moves forward in Ohio state court. You can flip to the next page to read (1) the complete flyer from the January 2012 City Club event, (2) the Chandra Law Firm’s press release about the case, and (3) the full complaint, with exhibits.

(hidden for your protection)

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