Updated at 11:46 a.m.
Michigan State University College of Law, which was hit with an age discrimination lawsuit over the summer in Washington federal court, is fighting back, filing a motion this week to dismiss the case or at least sever it from the other defendants and transfer it to a Michigan court.
Nicholas Spaeth, the former attorney general for North Dakota, first sued the school on July 28 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Spaeth claims that despite his vast experience as a lawyer, the school passed him over for a teaching job because he was too old.
The school moved for dismissal on Oct. 14. Less than a month later, Spaeth filed an amended complaint (PDF) on Nov. 7, this time against Michigan and five additional schools and their representatives. On Nov. 21, Michigan renewed its motion to dismiss (PDF), and asked in the alternative that the court separate it from the other defendants and move the case to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“Plaintiff’s claims against MSU Law arose from a separate and distinct occurrence than those giving rise to his claims against the other law schools,” the school wrote in its motion. “Indeed, Plaintiff has not even alleged concerted action amongst the defendants.”
The other schools now named in the lawsuit include University of Missouri School of Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law, Georgetown University Law Center, University of Iowa College of Law and University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Lead counsel for Spaeth, Lynne Bernabei of Washington’s Bernabei & Wachtel, said that because the schools in question all did not give Spaeth an interview during the same job fair in Washington, “there was a unifying adverse action that was taken in the District of Columbia.”
“It’s clear that he’s much more highly qualified,” than the individuals who were hired, Bernabei said. “Here’s a highly trained practitioner who would be a superb teacher, who would teach students exactly what would happen when they go out into the real world.”
The university’s lead counsel, Fulbright & Jaworski partner John Simpson, referred questions to law school Dean Joan Howarth, who said the school looked forward to "establishing in court that Mr. Spaeth's claims are completely without merit."
"We do not, did not, will not discriminate on the basis of age," Howarth said. "We are prepared to show the court why we did not interview Mr. Spaeth for a faculty position, which had nothing to do with his age."
Spaeth, who was born in 1950, applied for teaching jobs at more than 100 schools in 2010. When Spaeth first filed his complaint against Michigan in July, Bernabei said that he had previously filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and that of those complaints, between 30 and 40 had been dismissed and the rest were pending.
In moving for dismissal, Michigan argues that Spaeth hasn’t shown any evidence that he didn’t get the job because of his age. When Spaeth applied, the university wrote, he revealed that he wasn’t qualified because “he was neither interested in nor willing to teach courses for which MSU Law hired instructors.”
The other five schools were issued summonses on Nov. 18 and have yet to respond or list counsel.