A former University Law School professor will appear in court today for the third time since he originally filed a discrimination suit against the University five years ago, claiming he was wrongfully denied tenure for being openly gay.
Peter Hammer, who now teaches law at Wayne State University, left the University in 2003, shortly after he was denied tenure in a closed-door faculty vote. Hammer claims the faculty’s decision to deny him tenure is in violation of the University’s non-discrimination policy.
Today’s hearing will determine whether the case will go to trial, after it was twice postponed because the University filed motions for dismissal — both of which were subsequently denied.
A decision on the motion was supposed to be made in early November, but both sides agreed to push it back to better accommodate scheduling conflicts.
According to an Oct. 10 article published in The Michigan Daily, the University initially argued that an alleged violation of its policy could not be pursued in a legal setting. After mounting faculty pressure, though, the University revised its legal strategy in 2006 and now maintains that discrimination was not a factor in the decision to deny tenure to Hammer.
James Giddings, 30th Judicial Circuit Court judge, will hear oral arguments in a public hearing today regarding a summary disposition filed by the University that requests the case be thrown out.
Today marks the University’s third motion for a summary disposition. The case has yet to go to trial after its two previous attempts were both denied by the court.
“The University is doing everything it can to delay and avoid trial, ” Hammer said in an interview yesterday.
He told the Daily that the University’s third attempt to get the case dismissed was originally scheduled for December 2007 and then again in March 2008.
“What we’re going to argue is that they’ve filed the motion twice before and it’s been rejected twice before,” Hammer said. “The appropriate thing is to schedule a trial.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail interview that the hearing will evaluate the University’s request for dismissal of Hammer’s discrimination claim. He was unable to comment on the logistics of the University’s legal strategy.
“The U-M remains committed to inclusiveness and non-discrimination for all members of the university community,” Fitzgerald wrote.
If the University’s appeal is denied, the case will go to trial, at which point the University could appeal again, further delaying the judicial process.
“We really hope to get a trial in the spring,” Hammer said. “And if there’s any justice at all, that’s what would take place.”
Prolonging the trial has come at a cost for the University, though. An article published in 2007 on Bloomberg.com reported that, as of Nov. 20 of that year, the University had already spent $208,236 on the case. The information was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Hammer said this figure has likely gone up in the last two years, and the University could be spending as much as $300,000 just to prevent a trial.
“It’s not only squandering money,” Hammer said. “The more they delay, the worse they look because it looks like they’re hiding something.”