• February 1, 2016


At one table, a lone middle-aged man, distinguished, impeccably-dressed, scowling. At another, three government lawyers, bored. Enter Law Clerk from door behind judicial bench, also bored.


All rise! The Honorable Judge Patrick J. Schiltz presiding…

Enter U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz (D. Minn.) from door behind judicial bench, brusquely seating himself behind the judge’s bench.


Thank you. Take your seats. We’re here in the case of Dr. Geerish — am I saying that right, Dr. Sahu? — maybe we should start by your telling us, Doctor, the correct pronunciation of your name?


Yes, thank you, Judge Schlitz, my name is….

FADE TO:……………

I cast Jeff Goldblum as the law blogger, a devilishly handsome, mysterious, and mesmerizing pastiche of hope, humor, and despair. I am thinking John Travolta or Treat Williams for Judge Schiltz but I will entertain other suggestions.

Alas, I will never write the full screenplay because, if I did, it would be unreadable (let alone production-worthy).

Professor Hafed Bouassida, PhD., of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (and others, it seems) has similar misgivings about Dr. Girish Sahu’s future as a screen-writer. Prof. Bouassida flunked Dr. Sahu in Bouassida’s screen-writing class. Dr. Sahu then sued Prof. Bouassida for racial discrimination for having failed him.

Judge Schiltz also flunked Dr. Sahu.

There are many reasons why Bouassida may have given Sahu a failing grade, despite Sahu’s (allegedly) earning [a passing grade on points for class projects]. Bouassida may have just made a mathematical mistake. Or Bouassida might be incompetent. Or Bouassida may dislike Sahu’s personality. Or (as Sahu himself has suggested) Bouassida may be jealous of Sahu because Sahu is a “real” doctor with an M.D. Unfair as they might be, none of these reasons would violate a federal anti‐discrimination law. To survive a motion to dismiss, Sahu must plausibly allege not just that he was treated unfairly, but that he was treated unfairly because of his race (or color, or national origin, or religion, or age).

Dr. Sahu’s double misfortune reflects a misunderstanding that many non-initiates have about our justice system. Our justice system is not meant to address all instances of unfairness — even if a plaintiff has conclusive proof of having been treated unfairly, callously, or even cruelly. We all recognize this in the abstract but it is extremely difficult for many people to appreciate when one feels one is the victim of outright unfairness.

Plaintiffs’ employment lawyers know this better than anyone. I don’t know if there are any who have not recited the catechism hundreds of times: “At-will employment means that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason or for no reason so long as your employer does not fire you for an unlawful and discriminatory reason such as your race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status, or local human rights commission activity….”

Really? An employer can fire me for no reason? In addition to being obviously unfair, it almost seems logically impossible.

I am sympathetic to Dr. Sahu and to those who fail to appreciate and understand fully the limitations of our legal system (and our screen-writing skills). No human system will ever be devised to right all instances of unfairness. Perhaps that is why, throughout human history, so many people have pinned their hope for perfect justice on a supreme being.


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