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Peter Hammer: Prejudice on the track

Courtesy of Peter Hammer

By Mary Hannahan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 4, 2012

For former University Law School Assistant Prof. Peter Hammer, tenure seemed like the logical next step in his career.

After becoming an assistant professor in 1995, Hammer received several prestigious awards for both research and teaching, undergoing his third-year review without a hitch.

He was also the first openly gay male to go up for tenure in the Law School, and, subsequently, the first male to be denied tenure at the institution in 39 years. After the University refused to allow him to view the documents that detailed the tenure decision, Hammer brought the case to court in 2005, suing the University for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The University went through a lengthy set of legal steps to dismiss the case.

“It’s what most defendants do, which is delay and obstruct,” Hammer said.

In the lawsuit, Hammer claimed the Law School denied him tenure for discriminatory reasons and didn't provide adequate notification of his non-reappointment.

Because the University claimed he resigned, Hammer said the Law School was able to avoid internal responsibility under the University’s Board of Regents’ bylaws for its failure to give proper notice to the University.

Only after pursuing the case in a legal setting was Hammer able to view the documents regarding his tenure decision. He found that all but one of his external reviews were favorable, and that the Tenure Committee had recommended tenure. However, a small minority of faculty in the Law School were able to prevent him from obtaining tenure.

In the Law School, a two-thirds majority faculty vote is required to put someone up for tenure. In Hammer’s case, faculty voted 18-12 in favor — two votes shy of the requisite number of 20.

According to Hammer, in depositions under oath, faculty members who'd voted against him obscured their views on issues like homosexuality.

In August 2010, the Michigan Court of Claims tossed out Hammer's claim of sexual orientation discrimination, according to a Sept. 15, 2011 litigation report to the Regents.

Last July, the court also dismissed Hammer's claim that the University failed to provide him adequate notice of his non-reappointment, according to the litigation report.

Since 2003 Hammer has taught at Wayne State University, where he’s a tenured law professor.

But Hammer said he won't abandon his case against the Law School and is currently in the process appealing both decisions.

“Institutions need to be held accountable when they violate your rights,” Hammer said.

In an e-mail interview, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote that the University didn't commit any violations, an assertion he said is proven by the court's rulings.

"The University does not believe it violated Prof. Hammer's rights," Fitzgerald wrote. "More importantly, neither did the courts."