Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims

In Sarkis v. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, the Second Circuit recently affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claims that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of  42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the New York State Human Rights Law.

Plaintiff sought to hold his former employer liable under under Title VII for a hostile work environment created, he claimed, by two of his colleagues.

The court explained:

There are two ways that liability under Title VII can be imputed to an employer. First, when the harasser is a supervisor with immediate or successively higher authority over the employee, the employer is subject to vicarious liability for the hostile environment. Alternatively, [w]here an employee is the victim of … harassment, including harassment in the form of a hostile work environment, by non-supervisory co-workers, an employer’s vicarious liability depends on the plaintiff showing that the employer knew (or reasonably should have known) about the harassment but failed to take appropriate remedial action.

The Second Circuit held that the trial court properly dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, noting that a single remark by one person was not enough to create a hostile work environment, and defendant was not presumptively liable on the basis of an offending text message sent by plaintiff’s subordinate.

Plaintiff also failed to show that defendant is liable for failing to take remedial action in response to his complaints, noting that defendant “had procedures in place to respond to complaints of harassment and Sarkis did not avail himself of those procedures.”

The court also affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s retaliation claims, noting that defendant “put forward evidence showing that there was a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for disciplining and firing Sarkis”, namely, “his repeated violations of store policy and consistently failing grades on objective performance measures.”

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