A lawsuit brought by a prominent Maine geriatrics specialist against a group of assisted-living centers is facing its first test in federal court.

Dr. Jabbar Fazeli was medical director of a group of assisted-living facilities that he says mistreated him for being Muslim then dismissed him for disagreeing with their treatment practices. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Dr. Jabbar Fazeli filed his complaint in September in U.S. District Court in Maine. He alleged that he was the victim of anti-Muslim bias and was terminated after raising objections about the treatment of residents. A judge held a hearing Thursday on a motion to dismiss and will now decide which parts of the case will move forward.

Fazeli was the medical director at three assisted-living facilities at the time of the allegations in his complaint. He said his colleagues began to treat him with bias and disrespect in 2016 after it was reported that his brother likely died in Lebanon after he left the United States to join the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State, and a news article mentioned that Fazeli reported his concerns with his brother’s radicalization to federal investigators. His complaint also said the centers terminated his contract as medical director two years later after he clashed with executives over medication practices.

The defendants are the three centers where Fazeli worked: Avita of Stroudwater and Stroudwater Lodge in Westbrook, as well as Avita of Wells. Northbridge Companies, their Massachusetts-based owner, and two company executives are also named.

All of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November. They argued in court documents that Fazeli has not stated any claims for which the court can grant relief, and he has not described a direct link between the alleged discrimination and the end of his contract. Attorney Josh Scott, who represents the defendants, said repeatedly during the hearing that the allegations were not specific or connected enough to proceed in court. In a memo, Scott also described the clashes before the contract termination as instances when patients’ families disagreed with Fazeli’s decisions.

“Plaintiffs offer no more than conclusory statements that racial discrimination occurred,” Scott wrote in a memo. “We are offered occasional claims that do no more than state that Defendants discriminated ‘because of (Fazeli’s) race, ethnicity, and ancestry.’ Nothing more than these barebones allegations, and the allegation that the Bangor Daily News article sparked the discrimination, support the … claim.”

Attorney Chad Hansen, who represents Fazeli and his company, Maine Geriatrics LLC, asked the court to allow all claims to proceed. He argued that the complaint clearly showed discrimination against Fazeli in the response to the article and the deterioration of his professional relationships that followed.

“The Complaint establishes that Plaintiffs were subjected to adverse employment actions including hostility, lack of respect, and an undermining of Dr. Fazeli’s medical directives, terminating Plaintiffs’ contracts, and Defendants providing false and misleading information to Plaintiffs’ patients at the facilities which lead to the loss of the patients and economic damages,” he wrote.

U.S. District Judge Jon Levy questioned the attorneys for nearly an hour over Zoom on Thursday. He did not give a timeline for his order on the motion. The complaint includes claims under multiple laws, including the Civil Rights Act and the Whistleblowers Protection Act.

Fazeli is well-known throughout the state as the spokesman for the Maine Medical Directors Association, which represents doctors and staff at long-term care facilities. In March, he spoke out publicly about the lack of COVID-19 testing among residents and employees at Maine’s long-term care facilities, warning that Maine’s 93 nursing homes and more than 200 assisted-living facilities had been largely ignored when it came to testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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