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Law professor’s age-bias suit advances

The former attorney general of North Dakota can proceed with his age discrimination lawsuit against Georgetown Law, a federal judge has ruled.

Nicholas Spaeth is also suing the University System of Maryland because he did not get an interview for a teaching position at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Spaeth, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., was 60 in 2010 when he applied for teaching positions at several law schools and only received interviews with two — University of Missouri School of Law, where Spaeth was already a visiting professor, and University of Nebraska College of Law. He was not hired by any.

Spaeth filed an age discrimination lawsuit last July in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging Michigan State University College of Law, Missouri School of Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law and University of Iowa College of Law, as well as Georgetown and the University System of Maryland, hired less qualified, younger professors over him.

“After 25 years of experience, what makes him less qualified?” said Spaeth’s attorney, Lynne Bernabei with Bernabei & Wachtel PLLC in Washington, D.C. “Nothing. If anything, it makes him more qualified.”

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle denied a motion for dismissal by Georgetown University on Tuesday, saying Spaeth had sufficiently alleged a cause of action under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and District of Columbia law to move forward with the case.

The ruling on Georgetown’s motion is not binding on the federal judges who will decide the other cases. Huvelle granted Maryland’s motion to sever its case on March 8, transferring it to U.S. District Court in Maryland. Michigan State, Missouri, Hastings and Iowa’s cases were all severed Feb. 17.

Bernabei said she and Spaeth are discussing which cases to pursue. Spaeth has already voluntarily dismissed the cases against Hastings and Michigan State, Bernabei said. She said she was unsure about the future of the suit against the University System of Maryland, but believed Spaeth would likely move forward against Missouri and Georgetown.

Recruitment conference

Spaeth was born in 1950 and received his undergraduate and law degree from Stanford University. He received his master’s degree from Oxford University. Spaeth served as attorney general in North Dakota from 1985 to 1993. He taught law for four years — three at University of Minnesota Law School and one at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Spaeth applied to several law schools at a faculty recruitment conference in Washington, D.C., in 2010. He alleges that the three professors Georgetown University hired over him “are less qualified and decades younger than” him and were hired to teach courses in which “Spaeth claims to be an ‘expert.’”

“It’s pretty clear [Spaeth] was more qualified than the professors that received the position,” Bernabei said. “He was more academically qualified, professionally qualified, teaching qualified. Anything you looked at that are relevant to teaching jobs, he’s as good if not better than all the people who received the positions. The only thing that disqualified him is his age.”

Georgetown University’s attorney, William Nussbaum of Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, D.C., did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.

In its motion to dismiss, Georgetown claimed Spaeth did not list the courses the university hired for — taxation, tax policy, administrative law and regulation — as subjects he would be willing to teach.

The University of Maryland law school also claims Spaeth was not qualified in the subjects for which the law school was hiring, said Sara Slaff, the school’s defense lawyer at the Office of the Maryland Attorney General. The school hired three professors: one for contracts and securities regulations, another for civil procedure and a third to teach civil procedure, complex litigation and anti-discrimination law, she said.

Slaff said the school interviewed 34 of the 895 people who applied.

In the application form he submitted to the shared Faculty Appointments Register, Spaeth indicated he would be most interested in teaching courses on financial instruments, insurance law and business associations, but would also be willing to teach securities regulation, corporate finance, constitutional law, Native American law, criminal law and international business transactions.

“As the facts show, Mr. Spaeth revealed himself he was not qualified for a position for which the law school was hiring,” Slaff said.

Georgetown’s motion to dismiss also pointed out that it requires professors to have publications in their field, while the Spaeth listed only a “Handbook of American Indian Law” under “Major Published Writings” on the application form. The school argued the judge could rule that, based on his application, Spaeth was not qualified for a professorship.

However, Judge Huvelle noted that a motion to dismiss was not an appropriate time to consider that detail.

“At this stage, it is enough that Spaeth has set forth allegations, with appropriate specificity and substantiation, that he was qualified for a tenure-track teaching job,” the judge wrote.