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Published June 11 2013

Former ND AG to appeal judge’s ruling in age bias lawsuit

FARGO – A federal judge has ruled that Georgetown University did not discriminate against former North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth based on his age when he was passed over for a law school faculty position.

Spaeth filed notice last week that he is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“Obviously, we think the case is worth a trial on the merits,” Spaeth said by phone Tuesday.

The 63-year-old Spaeth, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., originally filed the age discrimination lawsuit in July 2011 against the Michigan State University College of Law, alleging that despite his “exemplary qualifications,” the school didn’t offer him one of 24 interview slots and instead hired three people decades younger and less qualified.

He later expanded the lawsuit to include five more defendants: Georgetown and the law schools at the University of Missouri, the University of California (Hastings), the University of Iowa and the University of Maryland.

The federal court transferred to their respective state courts all the claims except the case against Georgetown, which is in Washington. Spaeth said he dropped his claims against four of the schools because it wasn’t feasible to pursue lawsuits in so many different states. His University of Missouri lawsuit is in the discovery stage, and he anticipates it will go to trial later this year.

Spaeth pursued an academic career after retiring in 2009 from his job as chief legal officer for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. He was appointed to a non-tenure track position as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia for 2010-11.

He applied in fall 2010 at more than 100 law schools but didn’t get any interviews, despite a resume that included more than 30 years of practicing law, eight years as North Dakota’s attorney general from 1985 to 1993 and a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship.

Georgetown denied discriminating against Spaeth, arguing his application was rejected because “materials he submitted did not reveal any interest or experience in producing the kind of original legal research and scholarship that Georgetown – like other top-tier law schools in the United States – requires.”

Georgetown’s three hires were all 35 years old at the time and had “impressive” credentials, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle wrote in a May 9 opinion granting summary judgment in favor of Georgetown.

Spaeth wasn’t significantly more qualified and in fact “was less qualified than them based on Georgetown’s legitimate emphasis on scholarship,” Huvelle wrote.

“Simply put, Spaeth has not demonstrated the necessary qualifications for an entry-level tenure-track position at the school,” she wrote. “He had no record of scholarly work and did not demonstrate potential for producing such work in the future.”

Spaeth said he was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

“The judge seemed hostile to the case from the beginning,” he said. “We think we’ve got a good shot on appeal and we’ll see what happens.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528