Law Professors

Columbia law prof's age bias complaint is without basis, university contends in motion to dismiss

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Columbia University is seeking dismissal of an age bias suit filed by a 78-year-old law professor who contends the school is pressuring him to retire by making it more difficult to meet a teaching quota.

This week, the university filed a motion to dismiss the March lawsuit by law professor George P. Fletcher, the Wall Street Journal reports. Fletcher is “an influential scholar of criminal law,” the article reports. He has published 20 books and more than 150 law review articles, according to his complaint.

Fletcher bases his claim on a decision by law dean Gillian Lester, who told him he could no longer teach Introduction to American Law. Instead, Fletcher says, he was assigned to teach an elective course that could end up being canceled because of low enrollment. That would make it difficult to accumulate enough teaching hours in the fall semester as his spring semesters are spent as a visiting scholar in Israel.

Fletcher had pointed out that the professors assigned to teach Introduction to American Law were at least 10 years younger than him, “or approximately in their sixties,” the dismissal motion says. Fletcher also said those professors were less qualified.

The university said Fletcher could no longer teach the American law course because of relatively weak student evaluations and procedural failings, such as late submission of a syllabus. Fletcher says about 90 percent of his latest evaluations were positive, and he had always used his own course book as the basis for the syllabus. Fletcher claims the school was trying to micromanage his teaching of the class while younger professors weren’t subjected to similar oversight.

He alleges age bias in violation of human rights laws in New York state and New York City.

There is no basis for Fletcher’s age-bias allegations, the school contends in the dismissal motion. In any event, the school says, mere failure to accommodate a professor’s preferred course schedule does not give rise to a discrimination claim. Fletcher remains a tenured professor with the same salary, benefits and responsibilities.

“In short, he suffered no adverse employment action,” the motion says.

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