Widener law professor settles suit against dean

Posted: February 09, 2012

A defamation lawsuit filed by a tenured professor against the dean of the Widener University School of Law has been settled.

Lawrence J. Connell, an associate professor at the law school for 26 years, had accused the dean, Linda L. Ammons, of intentionally making false statements that he was a racist and sexist during proceedings to oust him from his post.

Connell is white and Ammons is black.

Lawrence was placed on leave in December 2010, then suspended without pay in August after allegedly retaliating against two students who complained about his classroom conduct.

In one case, during a class on criminal procedure, Connell allegedly used a hypothetical example in which he "decided to shoot" Ammons.

He denied any wrongdoing and stated that Ammons was attempting to fire him because of his conservative political views. Rather than retaliating, his lawyer said, Connell was defending himself when he discussed the accusations in e-mails and raised the possibility of suing.

No terms of the settlement were disclosed, except that Connell's employment with the university has ended.

Connell had sought $1.8 million in lost wages and benefits. He also sued for additional damages for harm he said was inflicted on his reputation, humiliation, and pain and suffering.

The settlement was announced Wednesday in a statement released by Thomas Neuberger, Connell's attorney. The agreement was confirmed by university officials and lawyer Donald L. Gouge Jr., who represented two students also named in the lawsuit.

None of the parties would comment further.

The settlement ends a tense controversy on the school's Wilmington campus.

University officials said that Connell refused to participate in the college's initial informal investigation and that they sought to fire him because his refusal violated his contract, according to documents included in the lawsuit.

In March, a faculty panel recommended that the school drop the charges, but stated that the allegations against Connell could be reinstated later.

The panel's ruling was put on hold so that a second university panel could investigate. That panel, which ruled in July, found that the accusations of racist and sexist statements were "not proven," but determined that Connell had retaliated against the students who made the accusations.

The alleged retaliation included sending e-mails to other students about the accusations and threatening two students with lawsuits.

Connell was suspended because of the alleged retaliation.

The suspension ruling also required that Connell undergo psychiatric treatment and issue a formal apology. He refused to comply.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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