Former North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth has lost his age discrimination lawsuit against Georgetown University Law Center. A Washington federal judge ruled yesterday that Georgetown presented non-discriminatory reasons – chiefly, Spaeth's lack of academic scholarship – for rejecting his application for a tenure-track teaching job.
After a long career practicing law in government and private practice, Spaeth began pursuing law school teaching posts around 2009. He sued Georgetown and five other schools in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after he failed to get an interview through the Association of American Law Schools faculty recruitment conference in 2010.
In yesterday's opinion, Huvelle found the record was clear that academic scholarship was a "primary concern" for Georgetown in weighing applicants. Spaeth failed to list any relevant publications in his application, she wrote, rebuffing Spaeth's argument that the focus on scholarship was a pretext for age-based bias. Even if Spaeth made it to the interview stage, she found, he failed to show he would have been hired over the three applicants who did get teaching jobs that year.
Spaeth argued his background in tax law made him a good candidate for Georgetown, which was looking for applicants in that field. The problem with that claim, Huvelle wrote, was Spaeth failed to indicate any interest in teaching tax law on his application.
"In sum, no reasonable jury could conclude, based on the undisputed evidence, that age was the “but-for” cause of – or even that age had a “determinative influence” on – Georgetown’s decision not to interview or hire Spaeth," Huvelle wrote. "Simply put, Spaeth has not demonstrated the necessary qualifications for an entry-level tenure-track position at the school."
Huvelle rejected Spaeth's broader claims that Georgetown held a "pervasive bias" against hiring older applicants for entry-level teaching jobs. Spaeth did present evidence of age-based remarks made by faculty members related to the hiring process, she wrote, but "he consistently takes those remarks out of context and misconstrues their meaning, or he mistakes merely descriptive statements for derogatory remarks."
During oral arguments on April 8, Spaeth's lawyer, Lynn Bernabei of Washington's Bernabei & Wachtell, said the use of words such as "young" or "pick of the litter" in describing law professor applicants was proof of discrimination. Huvelle disagreed.
"The bulk of the 'ageist' remarks that Spaeth points to are merely descriptions of young people as young," she wrote. "Additionally, reference to age has some relevance in the academic hiring context, insofar as it constitutes a proxy for years producing scholarship, allowing comparisons within 'rough age cohorts' of the relative complexity and quantity of the scholarship."
Bernabei could not immediately be reached for comment. Georgetown and its lead counsel, William Nussbaum of Hogan Lovells, declined to comment.
Spaeth has one other age discrimination case still pending against the University of Missouri School of Law in a Missouri state court. He withdrew most of his claims after his other lawsuits were transferred out of the D.C. court to their home jurisdictions.
Zoe Tillman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ZoeTillman.