Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Court Denies Summary Judgment in Iowa Law Faculty Age Discrimination Suit

Iowa Following up on my prior posts (links below):  an Iowa trial court yesterday denied the University of Iowa College of Law's motion for summary judgment in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by Donald Dobkin, 56, a professor at Central  Michigan University and a partner in a Troy Michigan immigration law boutique law firm.  Mr. Dobkin complains that Iowa refused to even interview him after he responded to an ad in the AALS placement bulletin seeking a tenured or tenure-track faculty member to teach administrative law and immigration law. Mr. Dobkin notes:

Assuming we can get to a jury, Iowa has a problem, because at the end of the day we will turn the trial into a question of who is more competent to teach immigration and administrative law. Is it the two younglings who had no practice experience in the field, had no or few publications in either field or myself--a candidate with 7000 cases under his belt, a graduate degree in law from an elite school, and more publications in the field than both candidates combined? Can you imagine a prospective juror, let's say a plumber from Iowa working 6 days a week to put his son through law school listening to all of this. Who do you think he is going to favor to teach his son to become a future lawyer--someone with mega practice experience and the scholarly credentials to boot--or the two neophytes who were offered the position?

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Maybe he wanted too much money? What if salary was the chief consideration beyond some minimal qualifications, like a JD? Isn't it likely that the guy who was much more experienced and knowledgeable (and therefore older) also wanted a higher salary?

Posted by: John Sullivan | Aug 3, 2011 10:32:04 PM

The fact that he's actually practiced law probably did more damage than his age.

Posted by: J | Aug 3, 2011 1:47:26 PM

This reminds me of an anecdote in "Somalia on $5 a day". The intelligence officer of the unit worked marvels getting intel in the field. However, he got out of the Army. Why? Because he could not get promoted. He had "too much field work"! It was the wrong career directory if you wanted to rise in the intel community. You have to follow the established path.

I suspect it is the same in the academic fields. It is not age discrimination. It is insularity. This guy did not even get an interview, because he had too much field work. He's a doer, not a teacher.

Academics should not be allowed to run their own affairs.

Posted by: Marc Malone | Aug 3, 2011 11:47:53 AM

I think this his case is stronger than he even says, given that very few law profs actually perform scholarly work. Writing esoteric law review articles is not really scholarly work--as it lacks the academic rigors and empirical analysis that is required for true scholarly work.

Posted by: anon | Aug 3, 2011 9:16:02 AM

I don't know enough about the law in this area to guess whether he has a case. However, the pattern of law schools (and business schools) is to hire academics with minimal practice experience. I am not sure why they avoid people with significant law experience.

This was not the case years ago when I attended law school. Many (most) of my professors had successful careers until they turned to teaching. The blend of academic and practice driven professors was good.

It would seem to be a benefit for the school and students to allow a practitioner to retire to teaching. (All of you acedemics who believe teaching is hard work should talk to any lawyer about the pressures of practice versus teaching.) If nothing else, the former practitioner has a wealth of contacts with other lawyers, groups, judges, etc. which could be turned to the schools's advantage.

My experience as an 11 year adjunct at a well-known B-school is that many in the admin & faculty are somewhat intimidated (while looking down their nose) at those who actually get dirty practicing the profession they are teaching.

My student ratings a very high - I must be an easy grader.

Posted by: Ed D | Aug 3, 2011 5:15:33 AM