This article was posted on Dec. 21.
A former University law professor is suing the University, claiming that the Law School denied him tenure in 2002 because he is openly gay.
Peter Hammer, who left the University of Michigan in 2003 to take a law professorship at Wayne State University, said he was first male professor in at least 40 years to be denied tenure by the Law School.
Despite a tenure review committee vote of 4 to 1 in favor of granting Hammer tenure, tenured Law School faculty members voted 18 to 12 for granting tenure, which was two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to grant tenure, according to court documents.
For Hammer, who cites his multiple national health policy awards and his publications in national health policy journals as proof of his scholarship, the Law School’s decision to deny him tenure “just didn’t sit right.”
“At that point you say, ‘Well, you’re the first openly gay man to ever be considered for tenure, and you’re one of the only men in the law school to ever be denied tenure,'” Hammer said. “It makes you scratch your head a little bit.”
Hammer’s lawsuit, filed in 2005, argues that by representing itself during pre-employment negotiations with Hammer as a non-discriminatory employer, the University created a contractual right to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Although Hammer’s suit is against the University, which is a public institution, it must be handled as a private contractual claim because Michigan has no laws prohibiting discrimination against gays.
University officials did not respond to calls for comment before this article was posted.
On Monday, the University’s general counsel attempted to get the case thrown out for a third time before a Lansing circuit court judge. The judge delayed the decision until January, prolonging a legal battle that has already lasted for nearly three years.
The University first asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit in 2006 by arguing that it had no legal obligation to uphold the non-discrimination policies in its employee handbook.
According to court documents, the University’s general counsel argued that the University’s non-discrimination policies represented only a “commitment” on the part of the University to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
But after receiving pressure from gay and lesbian faculty groups, the University abandoned the position that its non-discrimination policies weren’t legally enforceable.
Instead, the University now argues that it simply didn’t discriminate against Hammer in the decision to deny him tenure in 2002.
Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, praised the University for abandoning its previous argument that its non-discrimination policies didn’t constitute legal obligations in situations involving employee contracts.
In Michigan, where there are no public laws prohibiting discrimination against gays, Davidson said the University sent an important message to the public that reaffirmed its promise to not discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“By dropping their assertion that the non-discrimination policies weren’t enforceable, the University said, ‘You’re right, we did make a promise, and if you can prove that we did discriminate, that we did break our promise, than you can win,'” Davidson said.
That leaves Hammer to try to prove that his sexual orientation contributed to the University’s decision to deny him tenure.
For example, court documents presented by Hammer’s attorney cite a book that refers to homosexuals as a “pariah group” written by University law professor William Ian Miller who voted against Hammer receiving tenure.
Court documents also cite University law professor Kyle Logue who teaches Sunday school classes at a church that describes homosexuality as a “sin” and “an abomination.”
If Hammer can convince a court that three or more of the professors who voted against awarding him tenure were unfairly biased against gays, there’s a possibility that the votes cast by these professors in Hammer’s 2002 tenure decision could be invalidated.
If the votes of three or more professors were invalidated, it would reverse Hammer’s tenure decision, which means he could receive tenure retroactively and back pay from the past five years.
When asked if he would consider returning to the University if the decision was reversed, Hammer said he wouldn’t comment until the lawsuit was concluded.