Five years and two University general counsels later, a former University professor’s lawsuit alleging the University discriminated against him because he is gay still hasn’t gone to trial. But two motions being considered later today may get the wheels moving on the case once more.
Peter Hammer, who is now a law professor at Wayne State University, left the University of Michigan in 2003 after being denied tenure. Hammer was the first male professor at the Law School to be denied tenure in at least 40 years, according to Hammer’s complaint. In that timeframe, three women were denied tenure, according to the documents.
Hammer’s suit was filed against the University in 2004 and alleges that the University discriminated against him by denying his tenure. A tenure review board voted 4 to 1 to grant tenure to Hammer. But tenured faculty at the Law School voted 18 to 12, falling short of the two-thirds threshold required to earn tenure.
The complaint against the University says that at the time Hammer was hired, the University was represented as a non-discriminatory employer, and that as such, it has a contractual obligation not to discriminate against him on the basis of his sexuality.
Though little progress has been made in the case over the last few years, two motions are being considered by Judge James R. Giddings of the 30th Judicial Circuit Court.
The first motion, to schedule pretrial conference, is in essence meant to bring the case to the court’s attention in an attempt to move the case through the judicial system more quickly. The motion outlines what has happened so far, including multiple motions for summary judgment — which are attempts to settle a case and avoid a trial with evidence from discovery and deposition, among other areas.
The pretrial conference motion also discusses the protective orders on the case, in which both parties are being instructed to file motions under seal. So far, neither party has adhered to the order. Hammer’s second motion is to dissolve the protective order.
In an interview yesterday, Hammer said the motions would bring a greater transparency to the case.
“These two motions — the pretrial motion and the motion to dissolve the protective order — are intended to bring the facts to light and to hold the University accountable after years of trying to bury this case and avoid any sort of public accountability,” Hammer said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an interview yesterday that he would not comment on the motions.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment ahead of the court ruling tomorrow,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to let this play out.”
A motion by the University in 2006 to have the case thrown out claimed that the University had no legal obligation to adhere to its non-discriminatory policy, because the policy only represented a “commitment” of the University.
However, after significant pressure from faculty on campus, the position was abandoned and replaced by the position that the University did not discriminate against Hammer in denying his tenure.
Fitzgerald admitted the change in position had taken place, but would not comment on why.
“We did change our legal strategy in this case,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the University does not discuss its legal strategy publicly, especially in ongoing legal matters.
Despite the lengthy process so far, Hammer said he is committed to the case because he wants to bring about change at the University.
“The primary values for fighting this case is to establish some degree of transparency and accountability on the part of the University,” Hammer said.
Though he would not comment extensively on the issue, Fitzgerald said the University has policies in effect to safeguard against discrimination.
“The University of Michigan clearly is committed and remains committed to non-discrimination,” he said.