Attorney Alleges Georgetown Law Center Age Bias
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 02:02
Georgetown University is fighting a lawsuit that accuses the Law Center of age discrimination in hiring practices.
In July 2011, Nicholas Spaeth, former attorney general of North Dakota, lodged a suit against six universities for failing to grant him an interview during the Association of American Law Schools’ faculty recruitment process during the 2010-2011 academic year. Spaeth, who was 60 when he applied, said he faced discrimination because of his age.
“Among the documents we’ve reviewed, there were a number of ageist remarks by members of the faculty that were key in making the decision … to reject Spaeth’s application,” Spaeth’s attorney, Lynne Bernabei, said. She believes the documents reveal an implied favoritism toward younger candidates.
GeorgetownUniversity Law Center spokesperson Kara Tershel and Georgetown’s attorney, William Nussbaum, declined to comment for this story, citing university policy on pending litigation.
The Law Center typically follows two types of hiring practices. The first targets tenured professors at other universities. The second offers entry-level positions and puts professors on a tenure track.
Spaeth, who held a one-year visiting professorship at the University of Missouri School of Law, sought an entry-level post.
Law Professor Nina Pillard, however, reviewed Spaeth’s application and found him unfit, per the hiring criteria.
In a Feb. 1 motion for summary judgment — a request made by defendants asking for a ruling in their favor — Georgetown argued that Spaeth’s application was dismissed because of the candidate’s aversion to composing original, legal, scholarly writing. The document cites a 2011 article that Spaeth wrote for the National Law Journal in which he dismissed academic legal research as too “theoretical.”
But according to Bernabei, teaching ability is the only hiring criteria advertised by the Law Center in writing.
The university’s motion also said the university had a “particularly pressing need” to hire tax scholars and that Spaeth’s application did not indicate that he was interested in teaching tax law or had published any research in that area.
Bernabei countered that her client was teaching tax law at the time he applied for the interviews.
According to the University of Missouri’s faculty profile, Spaeth’s courses included Banking Law, Basic Business Principles for Lawyers, Mergers & Acquisitions and Securities Regulation.
Bernabei believes the hiring process favors younger candidates with fellowships or personal recommendations.
“There is pervasive age discrimination, generally,” Bernabei said. “People think younger people are more productive and have more potential.”
Due to the nature of the AALS’ faculty recruitment procedure, Spaeth never applied directly to the Law Center or most of the other universities against which he filed a suit.
Spaeth has dropped the claims against all universities he initially sued with the exception of Georgetown and the University of Missouri.
According to Bernabei, Spaeth did not have the financial resources to pursue all the lawsuits and felt he had the best cases against Georgetown and Missouri.
Spaeth seeks a position on the Law Center’s tenure track as well as damages incurred from not receiving a salary for 2010-2011 school year.
This is not the first time Georgetown has been sued for age discrimination. Most recently, the university settled a case in April 2005 with employment law firm Lippman, Semsker & Salb that alleged the university practiced discrimination in the firing of University Information Services employees. The terms of the case remain confidential.