Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Based On “Boys’ Club” Atmosphere Proceeds To Trial

Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., decided by the Second Circuit today, again illustrates the breadth of the New York City Human Rights Law’s protections against employment discrimination and retaliation.  The Second Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant and remanded the case for trial.

Plaintiff alleged

that her supervisor [CEO Ian Peacock] ran the office like a “boys’  club,” subjecting her to sexually suggestive comments and twice propositioning her for sex [and] that when she refused his sexual advances, he retaliated by berating her in front of other employees and ultimately firing her.

Citing the broader standard of liability under the NYCHRL, the Second Circuit held that there was a genuine dispute as to whether plaintiff was treated “less well” than her male colleagues because of her gender:

Mihalik presented evidence that men in the Cheuvreux office “objectified” women by openly viewing and sharing pornography, discussing their jaunts to strip clubs, rating the female employees’ appearances, and making lascivious comments about women’s outfits and bodies. … Peacock explicitly told Mihalik that male employees should be respected because they were “male” and thus “more powerful” than women. … Mihalik was subjected to this environment, and also had to suffer Peacock’s unwanted sexual attention, including two sexual propositions.

It concluded that “[i]f a jury were to credit Mihalik’s testimony, it could reasonably find that she was treated “less well” than her male colleagues because of her gender, and that the conduct complained of was neither petty nor trivial.”

The court also found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Peacock retaliated against plaintiff for opposing his discriminatory conduct.   One disputed issue concerned what, exactly, happened during the meeting that precipitated plaintiff’s termination.

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