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Court Revives Teacher's Suit Over National-Origin Bias

A federal appeals court has revived the lawsuit of a teaching applicant who claimed national-origin discrimination because she was passed over for a job teaching Russian.

A federal district court in 2008 rejected the bias suit filed against the Virginia Beach, Va., school district by Irina Dolgaleva, a native of Russia. The court held that because the job went to a native of Belarus, and because Russia and Belarus had both been part of the former Soviet Union, there could have been no national-origin discrimination on the school district's part.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., said that considering Russia and Belarus to be the same for purposes of national origin "is of questionable accuracy."

The appeals panel noted that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted national origin broadly to cover an individual's, or his or her ancestors', place of origin, or an individual who has "the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a national-origin group."

"As a matter of ancestry, it would seem that the nations comprising the former Soviet Union are distinct," the appeals court said in its unanimous Jan. 29 opinion in Dolgaleva v. Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Dolgaleva claims in her suit that her qualifications to teach Russian were superior to those of the Belarus native, and that the Virginia Beach school system bypassed its usual procedures in hiring the other candidate.

The appeals court said the district court improperly considered the school system's claims in dismissing Dolgaleva's suit at an early stage, and it revived her national-origin bias claim.

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