U.S. appeals court reinstates doctor’s lawsuit against Biloxi VA Center

Published 6:54 pm Friday, January 25, 2008

A federal appeals court has reinstated an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a doctor who claimed he was fired from his job at the Veterans Administration hospital in Biloxi because he is Muslim.

Dr. Khaled Rikabi sued the VA shortly after he was fired in 2003. Rikabi is originally from Lebanon and became a U.S. citizen in February 2002. He is a physician specializing in infectious disease.

Rikabi began working at the VA Center on Aug. 18, 1996. By the time he was fired in 2003, Rikabi claimed his responsibilities had been increased and his positive job performance ratings also climbed.

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Rikabi said co-worker and administration attitudes began to change toward him after the 9-11 attacks. He said he was fired in March 2003 after what he was told was a reorganization of the department where he worked, according to court documents.

However, Rikabi continued to provide infectious disease consultations at the VA Center and retained his privileges at the center.

When the VA Center advertised his old job, Rikabi filed a complaint with the center’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, saying he was discriminated against on the basis of religion and national origin. It was shortly after he filed the complaint that Rikabi contended in court documents that his consultations and privileges at the center were cut off.

Rikabi sued in 2005 in federal court alleging wrongful termination, hostile work environment and retaliation claims.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 2006, saying Rikabi failed to prove any discrimination.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday in ordering the lawsuit reinstated said there was evidence to support Rikabi’s allegations that he was discriminated against because of his religion and nationality.

The 5th Circuit said the court record showed it was only three hours after Rikabi filed his EEO complaint that medical administrators at the VA told staff to quit using Rikabi’s services.

The court said the administrators stated concerns that Rikabi was providing substandard care — without supporting documents — were countered by the outstanding employee evaluations he received for his work.

The 5th Circuit said there was also information that the center sought out Rikabi for consultations after the administrator who fired him was replaced at the VA Center.

The court said there was enough evidence in the court record that a jury might find the VA Center’s explanations suspicious.

Wednesday’s ruling was issued by a panel of three 5th Circuit judges — Carolyn D. King, Rheas H. Barskdale and W. Eugene Davis.