The dean of Case Western University School of Law announced on Wednesday that he is taking a leave of absence for an unspecified amount of time.
The announcement came nearly two weeks after longtime law professor Raymond Ku sued dean Lawrence Mitchell and Case Western, claiming that Mitchell retaliated against him for accusing Mitchell of sexually harassing staff members.
In an email to the faculty and students, Mitchell wrote that the litigation had become a “distraction” to the entire law campus. “In order to allow us to continue the work we have begun without further disruption, I have asked the university to permit me to take a temporary leave of absence,” he wrote.
In an official statement, university officials said that they would find an interim dean as soon as possible.
“We believe Dean Mitchell did the right thing in taking a leave of absence,” the university said. “His decision allows the school community to focus on continuing its recent progress, including a dynamic new curriculum and strong fundraising.”
Mitchell declined to comment beyond his emailed statement.
Ku’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, viewed Mitchell’s leave of absence as a positive sign. “We are cautiously optimistic from Dean Mitchell’s ‘leave’ announcement that the university has finally accepted that it needs to put some daylight between it and this dean,” Chandra said via email. “If the university is at long last genuinely investigating the allegations about Dean Mitchell’s pattern of behavior, then better late than never.”
Officials initially dismissed Ku’s allegations, claiming his lawsuit contained factual inaccuracies and noting that Ku still holds his tenured position. According to Mitchell’s email, the university is conducting its own investigation of Ku’s allegations.
“I am confident that this review will be done expeditiously and that this review, again, will affirm that neither I nor the university have done anything wrong or improper,” Mitchell wrote. “I am also confident that it will put this behind us. I intend to take full advantage of the legal process to seek justice.”
Ku filed suit in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 23, seeking more than $25,000 in damages from Mitchell and the university for retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He claimed Mitchell stripped him of administrative roles and cut his pay after he reported Mitchell’s potential sexual harassment of several women who work at the law school to university officials.
Ku alleged that officials dismissed his initial claims as unsubstantiated.
He filed an amended complaint on Oct. 31, adding an allegation that Mitchell had propositioned a student to engage in a “threesome” with him. The amended suit claims that the student involved told a law professor in confidence about Mitchell’s alleged advance.
Mitchell has led the Cleveland law school since 2011 and been an unusually outspoken defender of the value of a legal education.