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Lawsuits and Rulings
8/13/2013 12:00 AM

30+ years of law practice are no substitute for scholarship

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.

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 and service.

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 hiring decisions.

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.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
    Managing Editor

    Joan Hope became editor of Dean & Provost in 2007. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work. She has taught writing and literature courses for eight years at colleges and universities including Indiana University at Bloomington, Clark University, and Houston Community College
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