A child has gone to a children's dentistry since he was 5. He is now 18, 6'9", 300 pounds, and bearded, resembling Andre the Giant. During each weekly orthodontics visit, the other children in the waiting room are clearly shaken and parents report that their 5 year olds are becoming scared to go to their dentist. They ask if the owner of the practice could kindly talk to the parents of the 18 year old and ask if he could attend an adult dentistry. The owner obliges, not wanting to upset and possibly lose customers. The owner explains the situation to the "giant's" parents and offers an alternative practice, one run by the owner's friend from dentistry school who happens to have worked with children for 20 years before opening a general practice, i.e. whose service is equal with that of the current dentists. The parents refuse. Would the owner of the practice be able to deny service to this individual without losing a discrimination lawsuit?

I think this is a pretty interesting question. One, we are dealing with children, who can't expected to be rational actors (e.g. observe that the giant is peacefully going about his business and is perfectly innocuous by the determination of any sane adult), but are also in a sense "customers". In addition, there are perfectly viable alternatives available that would only enhance the experiences all involved parties if exercised.

This feels like discrimination; if we replaced the giant with a black child, or anyone else with "abnormal" but immutable features, it seems the answer would be clear. We would say that the children need to learn how to live with others in their society that don't look like themselves. But this is maybe a bit more acute, considering it would seem much easier to convince a 4 year old who hasn't been exposed to Nazi propaganda or "Birth of a Nation" that a random African American is harmless than it would given the real-world manifestation of the cartoon antagonist of the latest Disney flick. After all, on top of the desired for specialized care, part of the ethos of the children's dentistry is the desire to create a sort of dental "safe space", a friendly environment that assuages the anxiety of this otherwise possibly frightening experience. Should we really expect children to learn life lessons while dealing with the immediate fear of the dentist?

TL;DR: Kids at a children's dentist are scared because an 18yo who has been going there since he was 5 looks like Andre the Giant. The dentist denies service to the 18 year old and his family, saying that of course it would be discriminatory if everyone involved were rational, but that little children can't be expected to be rational actors, and that if the 18yo keeps coming, it will hurt the business of the dentist. Is there any sort of precedent that firmly classifies discrimination against an individual based on immutable characteristics as illegal, or can this take place under certain circumstances?

  • André is an adult. What is he doing with his parents at a dentist for children? Mar 22, 2017 at 7:22
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    Ok, then pretend he's 17. I don't think addressing his age engages with the heart of the question. Mar 22, 2017 at 13:56
  • Let us also pretend he is trying to visit a kindergarten. Maybe this then makes my point clear. Mar 22, 2017 at 14:07
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    In all honesty, it doesn't, to me at least. He's at a pediatric dentist because he's well within a reasonable age range wherein pediatric care is appropriate. He wants to visit his little brother at a Kindergarten. These are reasonable circumstances. I think the spirit of the question is clear, and that quibbling over the details of the hypothetical doesn't really engage with it. Mar 22, 2017 at 14:32
  • "I don't think addressing his age engages with the heart of the question." - surely it would be relevant - if it is a children's dentistry then surely the dentist would be justified in sending the adult to an adult's dentistry, whereas if he is a child it would be an act of cruelty to say, "Get out of here! You're scaring the norms!"
    – komodosp
    Nov 17, 2020 at 0:21

1 Answer 1


Discrimination is not illegal per se

Some discrimination is illegal, details vary by jurisdiction, for example discrimination on the following bases is illegal in Australia:

  • race
  • colour
  • sex
  • sexual preference
  • age
  • physical or mental disability
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction
  • social origin

Some of these apply only in particular circumstances (e.g. employment) and not in others (e.g. consumer rights).

Physical appearance is not one of the illegal ones, unless it is as a result of a physical disability.

Age discrimination is illegal but not universally. For example, you are allowed to treat children different to adults. If the practice was a genuine paediatric one then moving adults onto an adult practice would be fine.

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    Hmm. I'm surprised there isn't a more abstract class of characteristics that can't be discriminated against. It seems somehow unfair that certain things that are clearly out of control of the individual are protected for while others aren't in a situation like this. Mar 22, 2017 at 13:53
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    Also, thanks for the answer. I can't give positive reputation yet, otherwise I would. Mar 22, 2017 at 13:58

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