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Favoring clear accent might not be discrimination

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Students often complain about foreign professors whose accents they have trouble understanding. Those concerns can be a legitimate reason for a university to hire a candidate with better communications skills.

That’s true even though accent discrimination can be construed as national-origin discrimination.

Recent case: Yili Tseng, who is a native of Taiwan, was passed over for a tenure-track position at Florida A&M in favor of a professor from mainland China. One of the reasons: Tseng was hard to understand.

Tseng sued, alleging that he was the victim of national-origin discrimination based on his heavy accent.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his argument because, in this case, being understood was an important job requirement. (Tseng v. Florida A&M, No. 09-15297, 11th Cir., 2010)

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