Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


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‘Third World Dentistry’ Remark Not Proof of Bias—Court




A professor’s remark that a dental student’s work reflected “Third World dentistry” did not create an inference that the student was discriminated against because of her Egyptian origin, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

Considered in context, the alleged remark by Marc Geissberger, a professor at the University of the Pacific dental school, could only be understood as a reference to Dalia Rashdan’s performance, not her national origin, Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the court.

Rashdan, an Egyptian dentist, filed suit against Geissberger, the university, and others after leaving the school’s international dental studies program, the completion of which would have allowed her to practice in this country. She alleged that she suffered disparate treatment by the school, culminating in her being assigned to a remedial program that prevented her from graduating within the anticipated two years, was based on her national origin.

U.S. District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong of the Northern District of California granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, holding that Rashdan failed to state a prima facie case for violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The provision permits suits for discrimination in connection with the provision of federally funded services.

Performance Questioned

The remark by Geissberger, the plaintiff testified, was in response to Rashdan’s performance of a procedure involving the seating of a crown, three months before she was due to graduate. Although she followed her teacher’s instructions, she said, the procedure was unsuccessful.

Geissberger, head of the school’s restorative dentistry program, heard about the procedure and made the “Third World dentistry” remark in front of other faculty, students and patients.

When she confronted Geissberger in his office later and told him the remark was offensive, he insisted that Egypt was “not a Third World country” but that her work was “Third World dentistry.” She responded that Egypt was, in fact, a Third World country and that “in any event, I learned this Third World dentistry in your First World clinic.”

Rashdan also alleged other remarks by faculty members, including one who called her “TW,” as in “Third World.”

McKeown, however, explained that the plaintiff failed to present evidence from which bias could reasonably be inferred.

Although the issue had not previously been resolved in the Ninth Circuit, the judge explained, other circuits have held that Title VI claims must be analyzed under the same framework as those arising under Title VII, dealing with employment discrimination.

Bias Framework

Under that framework, she said, the burden was on Rashdan to present a prima facie case of discrimination. Only if she did so, the judge explained, would the burden have shifted to the defendants to show that they had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for insisting that Rashdan enter a remedial program.

Rashdan failed to meet her burden, the judge said.

“In context, construing all inferences in favor of Rashdan, Geissberger’s statement about Third World Dentistry,’ referred to the procedure that Rashdan’s supervisor ordered,” the judge said. “Rashdan acknowledges that no one affiliated with the University made any disparaging comment about Egypt or its people, customs, culture, religious practices, or traditions, and she referred to herself as ‘TW’ in an e-mail to [a faculty member].”

Nor, the judge said, did Rashdan’s submission of a “laundry list” of test scores of other students whom she alleged were similarly situated but were allowed to graduate on time or due less onerous remedial work establish a prima facie case. The list, McKeown said, lacked any context from which the court could judge that those students received better treatment based on impermissible grounds.

The case is Rashdan v. Geissberger, 12-16305.


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