A Washington federal judge heard arguments Monday on whether the use of words such as "young" or "pick of the litter" in discussing law professor applicants was evidence of discrimination against older applicants in Georgetown University Law Center's hiring process.
Former North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth sued Georgetown and five other schools after he failed to get an interview through the Association of American Law Schools faculty recruitment conference in 2010.
Georgetown moved for summary judgment, arguing that they had non-discriminatory reasons for rejecting Spaeth, in particular his lack of expressed interest in legal scholarship. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle heard arguments yesterday afternoon.
In briefs, Spaeth's lawyers pointed to an internal university memorandum discussing the need to hire "promising young scholars" and praising the "young cohorts" at peer institutions as an example of bias against older candidates. Hogan Lovells civil litigation partner William Nussbaum, lead counsel for Georgetown, argued today that the word "young" was used as a synonym for "new" and wasn't proof that Georgetown was against hiring older candidates.
Nussbaum added that Spaeth's lawyers engaged in "linguistics acrobats" to show that other phrases they identified in evidence related to the school's hiring process were proof of discrimination in favor of younger candidates, from "pick of the litter" to "enthusiastic."
Lynn Bernabei of Washington's Bernabei & Wachtel, a lead attorney for Spaeth, countered that the language was a clear indication of "structural discrimination" at Georgetown. She said that even absent statements that referred specifically to Spaeth, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court had held that evidence of a discriminatory atmosphere was relevant.
According to court filings, Georgetown received around 800 applications through the recruitment conference. Spaeth never made it past the first round of review. Georgetown said in its brief that a reviewer looked at Spaeth's materials but passed because he didn't offer legal writing samples or express an interest in legal academic scholarship. The school hired three law professors that year, two of whom applied through the conference.
Bernabei argued Monday that legal scholarship couldn't have been such an important factor because one of the three professors hired didn't have any publications. Nussbaum replied that the candidate had a forthcoming piece of writing and offered a research agenda. Legal scholarship "could not have been more important to Georgetown," he said.
Huvelle pressed Bernabei to explain how Spaeth could blame Georgetown for not interviewing him when he never specified he was interested in teaching tax law, an area Georgetown wanted to hire in that year. Bernabei said it should've been clear because he was teaching tax law at the time as an adjunct professor.
Sapeth's lawsuits against five other law schools were transferred to their home state jurisdictions, at which point Spaeth withdrew most of his claims. Besides the Georgetown case, Spaeth is still pursuing similar claims against the University of Missouri School of Law in a Missouri state court.
Huvelle didn't say when she expected to issue her ruling.