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Sex, Politics and Revenge: Lawrence Mitchell Was Supposed to Bring Stability to Case Western Reserve University's Law School, Not Treat It as His Personal Pickup Playground

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The next week at work, the new dean's behavior was the topic of discussion. One female professor told Ku about Mitchell's "discrimination/harassment" of two other professors and also about how Mitchell, at the party, had said to yet another female professor, in front of her husband, something "about Dean Mitchell stealing her away from her husband," a comment that apparently caused some tension. Yet another staff member, an associate dean, later told Ku that Mitchell said the same thing to her that night — that he was going to "steal her" from her husband.

Ku and that associate dean deemed this sexual harassment, the suit says, and intended to follow the school's policy on reporting such actions. The woman was scared for her job, but Ku had tenure so he decided to bring the concerns to the university himself.

On Sept. 1, Ku met with provost Bud Baeslack — the No. 2 administrator at the university, the one most directly in charge of Mitchell and described by some as Barbara Snyder's "hatchet man" — about the law school dean. He "reported what he had witnessed and heard about Dean Mitchell's inappropriate and sexually harassing behavior toward women at Case." He didn't drop the names of the women, "out of concern for their privacy and potential retaliation against them."

It didn't go as planned. Baeslack told Ku to address Mitchell individually and report back to him on how the conversation went. On Sept. 6, during a previously scheduled meeting, he did just that. Mitchell didn't take it well, expressing disbelief that those who had come to Ku didn't come to him directly. The conversation ended with accusations of disloyalty.

If Ku ever reported him again, the suit says, Mitchell said he'd fire him.

"Dean Mitchell continued to claim he had been 'betrayed' by Professor Ku and — effectively admitting conduct — stated, 'it's not like I raped someone,'" the complaint reads. "Dean Mitchell accused Professor Ku of undermining his authority and stated that this is exactly why Case Law School 'was not able to get a real dean' for the last several years.'" Mitchell ended the meeting, telling Ku to apologize on his behalf "to the women who expressed concerns with him."

When Ku reported back to Baeslack, the provost acknowledged that Mitchell had contacted him about the conversation and was indeed quite angry. But that was understandable. Baeslack conceded it was expected for Mitchell to be angry Ku had gone over his head and, according to the complaint, he too would be miffed if a subordinate did that to him.

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Ku claims that Mitchell then engaged in a systematic attempt in trying to force him out from Case.

Mitchell enlisted his assistant to "monitor Professor Ku's blog posts and drum up faculty support for the dean, while attempting to discredit Ku." Mitchell, in the response to the suit, admitted he had someone monitor Ku's postings. The dean also enlisted his assistant in a campaign to persuade other staff that Ku's claims were baseless. The unofficial henchman did his job well apparently — he received a bonus shortly thereafter.

The campaign to make Ku's life miserable didn't stop there, according to the complaint. Mitchell forced him to do what Baeslack reportedly admitted to be unnecessary "homework" and shut him out of meetings associate deans would normally have attended. Next, Mitchell took three major responsibilities another faculty professor had been taking care of and assigned those to Ku.

That September, Ku met with Marilyn Mobley, the university's Vice President of the office of inclusion, diversity & equal opportunity, and explained his situation.

"Dr. Mobley responded that this was 'a classic case of retaliation,'" according to the filing. "Dr. Mobley told Professor Ku that she was going to bring Dean Mitchell's retaliation to University President Barbara Snyder's attention right away."

In mid-September, on the advice of Mobley and faculty diversity officer John Clochesy — who shared his opinion that Baeslack "just didn't get it" regarding sexual harassment in general, based on his behavior after a past sexual incident involving a student in a study abroad program — Ku filed a formal complaint for retaliation. The school was to begin an investigation. But a week or two after the internal complaint, Mitchell reportedly learned that president Snyder had decided to back him regardless of Ku's allegations.

Meanwhile, a few days later, Ku learned that yet another professor had begun the process of bringing another allegation to the administration after a student confided in them that Mitchell had propositioned the student for a threesome.

The multiple allegations didn't amount to anything: At the end of October, Mobley told Ku that her investigation was complete and his allegations were unsubstantiated. There was no explanation of how she had proceeded with the investigation.

The administrator's ruling essentially meant Mitchell won; he forced Ku out and the administration gave the move its stamp of approval. The very next day, Ku resigned as the associate dean for academic affairs and chair of the law school diversity committee. He remained a professor, however, and planned on teaching classes until his sabbatical for the 2012-2013 academic year. Several students who took his Spring 2012 semester class say Ku did not finish out the year though, instead leaving at the end of March. He didn't communicate much nor create the final exam for the class. During one Skype session, he told students he wasn't even supposed to be getting out of bed.

"So Ku takes this leave, right? That's when rumors start swirling, and the rumors that start swirling are the ones that are backed up in this complaint," says a student. Many of those classmates had seen Mitchell's questionable activity firsthand or heard about it from elsewhere, knew that he asked a classmate for a threesome, knew about his drinking and dating habits. "The rumor was that some students had gone to Ku and complained about Dean Mitchell's behavior, and that Ku had stood up to Dean Mitchell, and that they had kind of gotten into it. I heard that as a result of this, Ku was going to be stepping down from Case and take a job at another school, and he was just phoning it in."

When Ku returned from sabbatical last summer, he learned an additional undergraduate seminar had been added to his workload (a role that came without pay and one that had been previously filled by faculty who volunteered).

Then he found out Mitchell had knocked him down from the role he cherished — he would no longer be a part of the Center for Law, Technology & the Arts for the first time since he was hired a decade earlier.

That last move, according to some, was a kick in the gut and the final straw for Ku.

On Oct. 23, 2013, he filed suit. While the allegations of retaliation were surprising to students, the tales of sexual harassment were not.

"All this shit was common knowledge, it was all out there," says one third-year student about the harassment described in the lawsuit. "The student body was all talking about it."

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Mitchell's lawyers contend the lawsuit is factually baseless and nothing more than the retaliatory actions of a man who been denied the chance to be dean.

But, a signed affidavit later submitted to the court by Daniel Dubè, an attorney and Mitchell's former assistant, says differently. (Click here to read that affidavit. Dubè is not a party in the suit and rejected the school's offer for money in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement.)

Dubè writes, under oath, that in early September 2011, Mitchell told him Ku had made a sexual harassment claim through the school. It stemmed from, among other incidents, a night when Mitchell drove a female law student home from a school party in August 2011. Dubè says that Mitchell admitted he drove her home "with the intention of engaging in sexual relations with her" but "he reconsidered and simply 'made out' with her on her doorstep before departing."

After the claim made its way to provost Baeslack, Dubè says Mitchell made it clear that he had the university on his side and supported his desire to remove Ku from the faculty.

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