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Law prof claims dean retaliated after he reported ‘creepy’ back rub, sexual flirting at party

Posted Oct 24, 2013 9:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A law professor who wrote a casebook on cyberspace law has sued his university and its law dean, claiming that he was subjected to retaliation after he reported the dean’s “creepy” back rub of a colleague and “sexual flirting” during a party.

The suit, filed by Case Western Reserve law professor Raymond Ku, claims the school retaliated against him after he reported the possible sexual harassment by law dean Lawrence Mitchell, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Mitchell, hired in 2011, was previously in the news for a New York Times op-ed he wrote last year entitled “Law School Is Worth the Money,” Above the Law points out.

The law school issued a statement saying the situation “is categorically not an instance of retaliation.” The school said it would have additional comment after a more thorough review of the lawsuit.

Ku claims in the suit that he saw Mitchell caress the back of an assistant dean at an August 2011 party at Mitchell’s home. The assistant dean’s back was “somewhat exposed” because she was wearing a summer dress.

“Both professor Ku and his wife witnessed this inappropriate physical contact—which is best described as a caress of his colleague’s exposed skin—and found it to be sexually inappropriate as well as unnerving and creepy,” the suit says.

Ku later discussed what he saw with other professors. One reported that during the same party, Mitchell made a comment about stealing her away from her husband, the complaint says. According to the suit, “this sexual flirting upset her husband. “Another administrative staff member said Mitchell made similar comments to her, the complaint says.

Ku says he reported his concerns to Provost and Executive Vice President W.A. “Bud” Baeslack, the dean’s immediate supervisor, who advised Ku to discuss the matter with Mitchell. Ku followed those instructions, raising the sexual harassment concerns “as diplomatically as humanly possible,” the suit says. The dean responded by denying the conduct, berating Ku for taking the matter to Baeslack, and terming Ku's reporting a “betrayal,” the suit claims.

The suit describes Ku as an intellectual property scholar who was honored as professor of the year by the 2009 graduating class. He was promoted to associate dean for academic affairs the next year. But after Ku spoke with Mitchell, the suit claims, the dean began “a campaign of retaliation” against Ku.

Ku alleges Mitchell sought to discredit Ku, asked for help monitoring Ku’s blog posts, excluded him from matters in which he would customarily be involved as associate dean, gave Ku extra “busywork” assignments, and refused to consider him or other internal candidates for a newly endowed chair for a faculty member teaching intellectual property. Ku resigned from his position of associate dean for academic affairs, maintaining that he had been constructively discharged, which resulted in a pay cut. He was also removed from the co-directorship of the Center for Law, Technology & the Arts, resulting in another cut in pay, the suit says.

The suit also claims that an administrative staff member was laid off after reporting in December 2011 allegations of a sexual relationship between Mitchell and a law student.

The law school’s statement denying retaliation points out that “Ku continues to hold a full-time, tenured faculty position at the School of Law.” B. Jessie Hill, the associate dean for faculty development at the law school, gave an additional statement to the Plain Dealer.

“Dean Mitchell has worked to increase diversity and equity since he arrived at our law school," Hill said. "He has addressed historical pay disparities between male and female faculty, launched a dynamic Women's Law and Leadership Initiative, and increased the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities within our recent entering classes."

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