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An embattled professor at Widener University School of Law has sued law Dean Linda Ammons for defamation after he was placed on administrative leave for allegedly using violent hypothetical situations and offensive language during his criminal law class. Lawrence Connell filed suit against Ammons in Delaware state court on Friday, claiming that she widely publicized false charges against him to paint him as racist and sexist, because she disagrees with his conservative political views. Connell called the charges against him “preposterous.” “She has retaliated against me with lie after lie because she thinks I called her a ‘pumpkin head’ in a classroom example teaching students about the law of attempted murder,” he said in a formal statement issued after he filed the suit on Friday morning. In a statement provided by Widener University on Monday, Ammons said she had yet to see the lawsuit. “I have no intention of responding to his allegations in the news media,” she said. “However, if there is a lawsuit, it will be vigorously defended and I look forward to the truth coming out in a court of law.” Ammons said the university will continue to handle student complaints against Connell according to university codes. Connell seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Ammons. He named only Ammons as a defendant — not the two students who most recently lodged complaints about his classroom behavior. Connell’s attorney, Thomas Neuberger, said in March that the professor was considering naming those students as defendants, as well. Neuberger said Monday that neither he nor Connell would comment on the suit further, citing the unexpected death Friday afternoon of Connell’s daughter, Molly. Providing medical care for Molly, who was disabled and institutionalized, was a major reason Connell cited for fighting for his job at Widener. Connell, 58, is a tenured member of the faculty and has taught at the law school since 1984. The dispute began in early December, when law school administrators informed Connell that several students in his spring 2010 criminal law class had complained that he made offensive statements in reference to women and minorities. They reported that he used a hypothetical scenario that involved the murder of Ammons — a black woman. Administrators then interviewed students in his fall 2010 class, and some raised similar concerns, according to a letter from Vice Dean Patrick Kelly. Connell was put on administrative leave on Dec. 20, and was formally charged in late February with making racists and sexist comments and failing to cooperate with Widener’s investigation into his classroom conduct. A law faculty panel recommended in early March that the university not pursue his dismissal. A week later, two of Connell’s former students filed complaints against him under the university’s discrimination and harassment code. That triggered a different administrative process that is overseen not by the law faculty, but by university administrators. Neuberger said at the time that Ammons had orchestrated the latest investigation, which could result in Connell’s firing. Connell has circulated a 39-page affidavit detailing his classroom methods. He acknowledged using himself and colleagues in hypothetical scenarios, but denied making offensive comments. Connell’s lawsuit against Ammons includes two affidavits from law professors who said hypothetical scenarios are a common classroom tool. Karen Sloan can be contacted at [email protected].

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