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Disrespect? That’s not grounds for lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

While politically incorrect statements may be distasteful and offensive, they aren’t necessarily grounds for a lawsuit. That’s especially true if the statement can’t be tied directly to a protected characteristic such as national origin, religion or race.

Recent case: Dalia, an Egyptian dentist, was enrolled in a two-year international studies program to get her up to speed on U.S. standards so she could get a dental license.

Three months before graduation, Dalia was instructed to place a crown in a patient’s mouth. The process was not a success.

After hearing about the failed procedure, the head of the restorative dentistry program allegedly told Dalia within earshot of students, other instructors and patients, that her work on the crown amounted to “third-world dentistry.”

Dalia was offended and confronted the program head in his office.

She explained that she had only been following directions, that she hadn’t been instructed on how to place a crown in her classwork and that she had not thought it would be appropriate to refuse to follow directions during the procedure.

The program head responded that, “It’s still third-world dentistry.”

Dalia said she was offended by the remark. The program head then asked her where she was from and she said “Egypt,” adding that her home country was a third-world country and that the statement was therefore directed at her national origin. She ended the conversation by adding that the technique he called third-world was one she had learned in his “first world clinic.”

Dalia sued, alleging national-origin discrimination.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that while the comment was offensive, it wasn’t specifically aimed at her Egyptian national origin. (Mohamed v. Geissberger, et al., No. 12-16305, 9th Cir., 2014)

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