Case name: Spaeth v. Georgetown University, No. 11-1376 (ESH) (D.D.C. 05/09/13).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court for the District
of Columbia granted summary judgment to Georgetown University,
dismissing the plaintiff’s age discrimination claims.
What it means: When a plaintiff claims he was not
interviewed for a college or university position because of his age,
it’s not sufficient to show that the individuals interviewed and hired
were younger than he was. He must also show that he had all the
qualifications necessary to obtain a tenure-track position.
Summary: Nicholas Spaeth — born in 1950 —
attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. He graduated from
Stanford Law School in 1977 after serving as a law review editor.
Following law school, he served as North Dakota state
attorney general for seven years, as general counsel to several Fortune
500 companies, and as a lawyer in private practice. He also taught
constitutional law as an adjunct professor at the University of
Minnesota Law School from 1980 through 1983.
In 2009, he decided to pursue an academic career.
Ultimately, he obtained a non-tenure-track position as a visiting
professor of law at the University of Missouri at Columbia for the
2010-2011 school year.
In 2010, Spaeth submitted a resume to an online resume
system in which 172 law schools participated because his visiting
professor position was only a one-year appointment.
He also wrote to several law schools directly to indicate his interest in being considered for a position.
He did not write directly to Georgetown University because he didn’t think that he wanted to live in Washington, D.C.
Spaeth was invited to preliminary interviews by only two schools and received no job offers.
He then filed a suit against Georgetown, claiming that
its failure to interview and hire him violated the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act because it ultimately hired three less-qualified
candidates who were approximately 25 years younger.
Georgetown filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing
that Spaeth’s online résumé did not reveal any interest or experience in
producing the kind of original legal research and scholarship that
Georgetown and other top-tier law schools required.
Spaeth countered that Georgetown had no written
requirement that scholarship weighed heavily — or outweighed — teaching
However, District Judge Ellen Huvelle said that the lack
of a written requirement was irrelevant. She said there was no need to
put in writing what everyone knew: that scholarship was — for better or
worse — one of the overriding concerns among elite law schools in making
She recognized that Spaeth strongly felt that law
students should be taught by practitioners instead of academics.
However, she said that he could not dispute that scholarship was indeed a
primary focus of law schools when hiring faculty members, and she
refused to interfere with the university’s priorities.
Judge Huvelle found that Spaeth did not demonstrate the
necessary qualifications for an entry-level tenure-track position at
Georgetown because he had no record of scholarly work and had not shown a
potential for producing such work in the future.
She granted summary judgment in favor of the university.