In a bizarre legal case, a Croatian civil war combat veteran, who was fired from the University of Pittsburgh’s dental school over alleged death threats she made against a colleague, is suing the school for ethnic discrimination.
A federal appeals court this week revived Snjezana Bagic’s lawsuit, which claims her combat history and Croatian background were used against her in an internal investigation leading to her termination. The $100,000 suit alleges the university’s actions were “willful, wanton, and outrageous.”
It was originally dismissed in Aug. 2018 by a federal judge who concluded that “Bagic had failed to adequately plead discrimination based on her Croatian ethnicity,” according to court records. The Patriot-News first reported that the dismissal had been overturned.
Bagic was a member of the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh for nearly a decade when she was fired in April 2016. She claims her colleague fabricated the death threats in retaliation for Bagic complaining to her superiors that the professor was “abus[ing] his privileges as a faculty member,” according to court records.
When Bagic reported the colleague’s alleged behavior, he “undertook a settled plan for the purpose of discrediting Bagic and preventing [her] from interfering with his activities,” according to her lawsuit, which was filed in April 2018.
That colleague allegedly told university officials that Bagic said “she had killed before in the war and would kill him.”
An internal investigation of the threats concluded that “Bagic had admitted on several occasions to threatening to kill” her colleague and lead to her firing in April 2016, according to her lawsuit. But Bagic contends that the investigation was biased and had a “predetermined result” based on her time on “the front lines” of the war in Croatia.
When Bagic filed an internal appeal, the university’s chancellor found that the conclusions of the “flawed” investigation were “not reliable” and that the school was “unable to establish Bagic had threatened to kill” her colleague, her lawsuit claims. The panel and chancellor even allegedly concluded that her termination was “unreasonable”—but the school still refused to reinstate her.
But U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kent Jordan on Tuesday overturned the lawsuit’s dismissal, writing that “the false accusation of a death threat, exaggerated from a mere professional complaint, may be a symptom of deep animus based on Bagic’s ethnicity.”
“If the threat was indeed falsely reported, its propagation throughout the university’s investigation and subsequent appellate procedures raises a question of discriminatory intent,” he wrote.
The University of Pittsburgh declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation.