LANSING – In a hearing yesterday, attorneys representing Peter Hammer – a former University Law professor who claims he was denied tenure by the University because he is openly gay, argued that certain faculty members who voted against Hammer receiving tenure held biases against his sexual orientation.
Hammer filed the lawsuit in 2005, three years after the University of Michigan Law School denied him tenure. He is now a tenured law professor at Wayne State University.
Hammer claims that the Law School unfairly denied him the opportunity to challenge its tenure decision and that he was denied tenure because he is openly gay.
Lansing Circuit Court Judge James Giddings, who is presiding over the case, confirmed Monday that Hammer’s claim of being denied the chance to challenge his tenure decision would go to a jury trial. Giddings hasn’t yet ruled on whether Hammer’s sexual discrimination claim will also be heard before a jury.
Phillip Green, Hammer’s attorney, took aim at specific faculty members to show that professors who voted against Hammer may have done so because of his sexual orientation.
Richard Seryak, an attorney representing the University, said Hammer’s claims were unfounded and that the case didn’t deserve to go to trial.
“The Law School provided more special accommodation for this candidate than for anyone else in the history of the Law School and at the end of the day, this decision was based on his scholarship,” Seryak said.
Before being denied tenure by an 18-14 vote in 2002, Hammer was given a two-year extension to improve his scholarship after an initial faculty review of his performance.
Green argued that Hammer deserved a trial because at least three of the tenure votes that went against Hammer should have been thrown out. Green and his client said they have reason to believe that at least seven faculty members who voted in the decision held anti-gay sentiments.
One such member was Law Prof. William Miller. Green described Miller’s book “Digust,” where the author used two men kissing as an example of something disgusting.
Hammer’s attorney claimed Miller’s statements on homosexuals in “Disgust” and in another book written by Miller called “Faking It,” in which he said society considers gays to be a “pariah group,” showed his feelings toward gays.
Green said Miller was forthcoming in his testimony, particularly when he said that the Bible condemned homosexuality as an abomination.
In response, Seryak argued because since “Faking It” was published in 2003, after Hammer’s tenure decision, it should be not be considered in court.
Green also argued that Law School Prof. Kyle Logue’s vote against Hammer should not be counted because of Logue’s church’s teachings on homosexuality.
Logue said in his testimony that he voted against Hammer because of his scholarship, but Hammer argues that Logue’s anti-gay feelings can be seen in the fact that he teaches religious education classes at a church that views homosexuality as a “sin” and an “abomination.”
Seryak argued in response that the church doctrine does not accurately represent Logue’s personal views.
A third Law School professor, Richard Friedman, was also cited in Green’s arguments before the judge.
Though Friedman said his belief that Hammer wasn’t likely to be a leader in his area of expertise was the reason for voting against tenure, Hammer’s attorney pointed to Friedman’s role in revamping the Law School’s tenure policy as evidence of bias against the gay professor.
Shortly before Hammer’s review, Green said, Friedman helped redraft the Law School’s policy which eliminated the opportunity for an individual to challenge a tenure decision.
Judge Giddings ended the hearing by saying he needed more time to decide whether Hammer’s claims of sexual discrimination would go to a jury trial.
If Hammer’s case is successful and his tenure decision gets reversed, it’s up to the court to decide whether the professor’s tenure decision will be subject to additional approval by the University’s Board of Regents.
Hammer could also receive retroactive tenure and back pay from the past five years.