Case Western Dean Larry Mitchell Embroiled In Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation Case

13728727-mmmainI have had numerous readers and reporters send me links on the scandal that has taken hold of Case Western Reserve University in the last few weeks. Dean Lawrence (Larry) Mitchell has taken a leave of absence after a lawsuit accusing him of a pattern of sexual harassment and other abuses. Frankly, I have not posted anything on the story because Mitchell is a former colleague of mine at George Washington University and allegations from his time as a law professor at GWU have been raised as part of the lawsuit. I have no personal or direct knowledge of the GWU allegations of relations with students but I wanted to see if the matter was quickly resolved. It was not and appears, if anything, to be getting worse. Given the inquiries from readers, I felt that I would give an accounting of the current status of the controversy and the legal issues raised in the lawsuit. Given my position at GWU, I do not feel that it is appropriate to discuss those allegations.

6a00d8341c4eab53ef019b0041f004970b-200wiThe amended complaint of Law Professor Raymond Ku alleges that Mitchell engaged in sexual harassment and retaliation as Dean, including suggestions of three-some trysts with students and administrators. The complaint further claims relations with students during Mitchell’s tenure at George Washington Law School and notes that he married a student while a law professor. Ku’s allegations have been reportedly affirmed by a former administrator who came with Mitchell to Case Western from GWU, Daniel Dubé. There are also unnamed faculty and students referenced in the complaint. [Update: for Dubé’s affidavit, click here]

The complaint states that a professor reported an allegation from a student that Mitchell had proposed a “threesome” and sexual flirting and harassment by the dean. Media has reported that Daniel Dubé had come forward to say that he is Administrative Staff Member 3 referenced in the complaint. The complaint states that Administrative Member 3 reported Mitchell’s alleged sexual relationship with a law student and that he was then subject to retaliation from Mitchell. The complaint states that he was offered a severance package in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.

The complaint states that Administrative Staff Member 3 recounted how Mitchell had proposed a threesome with the staff member and his date during a party at Mitchell’s home. Mitchell’s prior tenure at GWU is also part of the complaint: “Before Dean Mitchell arrived at Case Law School to begin his deanship, his reputation preceded him. Members of the search committee and the Case Law School faculty, including Professor Ku, were aware of concerns about Dean Mitchell’s sexual behavior at [George Washington University Law School], including at least one sexual relationship with a law student and other inappropriate and questionable conduct.” [For the record, I was not interviewed by their search committee and gave no information to the school].

Mitchell has denied all of the allegations and his counsel, before answering the complaint, took the relatively rare step of seeking to strike large portions of the amended complaint. He insists that Ku is a bitter and disgruntled colleague who had it out for him after he beat Ku in the competition for the deanship and is trying “to cover up and distract from his unsatisfactory performance.” Notably, David Lat has published defenses of Mitchell at Above the Law. This was before Ku’s counsel responded to the motion.

Mitchell has retained one of the leading firms in the area as well as a well-known public relations firm, Dix & Eaton. He is on paid leave. It is not clear if the university is paying for both the firm and public relations firm, but the university continues to support Mitchell who is viewed as bringing new innovations to the school during a difficult time for all law schools.

The first matter before Cuyahoga County Common Please Judge Peter J. Corrigan is the motion to “strike certain immaterial, impertinent and scandalous allegations and materials.” The motion insists these “immaterial, impertinent and scandalous allegations are in no way relevant to the limited claim in this case as to whether Ku was retaliated against in his employment, are clearly prejudicial to Dean Mitchell, and must be immediately stricken from the court record to prevent even further harm to Dean Mitchell’s reputation and goodwill.”

The amended complaint does contain inflammatory rhetoric but the motion by Mitchell’s attorney, Steven Kaufman, is novel and, in my view, problematic. Such an order would have to be based on a finding that the allegations have no legal relevance to the underlying claims. It is hard to see how a court could come to that conclusion without even an answer. Ku insisted that the answer is part of the public relations campaign of Mitchell. However, the court is likely to be more concerned that it could be used in cases to avoid having to answer specific allegations on the record and under oath. Courts therefore view such motions with considerable suspicion. If Mitchell were successful in the motion, it would signal serious problems with the filing in the view of the court.

If the motion is denied, this could result in a long and bitter litigation. The problem with this type of case is that any law professor is a potentially relevant witness and depositions often generate considerable objections and delays. Absent a settlement, this could be a costly and protracted contest.

18 thoughts on “Case Western Dean Larry Mitchell Embroiled In Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation Case

  1. ““Before Dean Mitchell arrived at Case Law School to begin his deanship, his reputation preceded him. Members of the search committee and the Case Law School faculty, including Professor Ku, were aware of concerns about Dean Mitchell’s sexual behavior at [George Washington University Law School], including at least one sexual relationship with a law student and other inappropriate and questionable conduct.””

    *****************************

    It’s a smoking fire case. We’ll see if its hot enough to burn our apparently amorous dean with a penchant for the kinky — allegedly.

  2. “… Dean Larry Mitchell has taken a leave of action …” -JT

    I can tell if that is poetic writing or a Freudian slip.

    Either way it is a great literary image.

  3. And not good in any way, shape, or form for Case.

    I believe Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf have stepped in as Acting Deans of the School of Law and other faculty have volunteered to help with fundraising and admissions work.

    Case Western is an excellent school and this problem has stalled the momentum.

  4. Why would anyone put their job or career in jeopardy over something so silly? Especially if one is a dean of a top 50 US law school? SMH…SMH…SMH…

  5. Got to give Kaufman points for creativity, but still, were I the judge I’d be looking all kinds of sideways at that move.

  6. RWL,

    It wouldn’t be the first time that thinking with the wrong part of the anatomy harmed someone’s career. Probably won’t be the last.

  7. Just a dog here. Was he trying to pork male or females? Why did he want three in on the act? This could be just a case of who flung fu.

  8. Scary. I would be interested in what information the search committee had about previous allegations of sexual misconduct and why they seemingly discounted it and hired Dean Mitchell?

  9. raff,

    That is a question many people are asking. No matter the eventual outcome, the impact has been nothing but negative.

  10. Because John Edwards was under indictment @ the time. But, he’s back in biz so Case might want to send a search committee down to NC.

  11. Universities have been not unlike the Roman Catholic priesthood for ages, when it comes to harassment. i know of someone in my field who went from institution to institution (including a couple of the most respected departments in the field) dogged by credible allegations of sexual harassment. One institution eased him out on the basis of some minor irregularities with his grants and he moved on to a bigger name institution. In the end, it was financial improprieties (very big ones) that took him to federal prison, but only after an affair with another administrator that went sour.

    The sour grapes allegation looks like it may have some validity, but the same can be said about the allegations from what’s here.

  12. SETTLE DOWN, CLASS!

    FIRST OFF!

    DEFINE SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

    IF MR KU THOUGHT LARRY’S BEHAVIOR WAS INAPPROPRIATE, HE SHOULD HAVE INFORMED HIM & TOLD HIM NOT TO DO IT AGAIN. IF LARRY REPEATED THE BEHAVIOR, THEN MR KU SHOULD HAVE APPROACHED A SENIOR MEMBER OF STAFF & MADE A REPORT. IF THERE WAS NO FURTHER MISBEHAVIOR, THEN THE PROBLEM IS DEEMED TO BE SOLVED & A RECORD IS KEPT ON FILE.

    IF LARRY DID NOT DESIST, THEN WE DO HAVE A SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASE ON OUR HANDS & THE PAPER TRAIL TO PROVE THE CASE.

    MOST AMERICANS ARE FAR TOO TOUCHY & READY TO GO TO COURT!

    MAYBE SHARIA LAW IS WHAT THIS HOMER SIMPSON COUNTRY NEEDS!

  13. RWL:

    “Why would anyone put their job or career in jeopardy over something so silly?”

    *******************
    Herman Cain
    Gary Hart
    John Edwards
    Larry Craig
    Elliott Spitzer
    Bill Clinton
    The Terminator
    John Ensign …

    are just few of the many who come to mind.

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