Court Reiterates That “Mere Workplace Bullying” Unrelated to the Plaintiff’s Membership in a Protected Class Does Not Constitute a Hostile Work Environment

In Chinnery v. NYS Office of Children and Family Svcs, decided April 25, 2014, Southern District of New York Magistrate Judge Maas recommended that defendant OCFS be granted summary judgment on plaintiff’s disparate treatment, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While the court’s discussion of plaintiff’s disparate treatment and retaliation claims is instructive, I write to highlight the court’s discussion of plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, namely, its reiteration of the principle that “[m]ere ‘workplace bullying’ is not enough to give rise to an actionable hostile work environment claim” and that “there must be a showing that the conduct occurred because of the employee’s membership in a protected class.”

Specifically, while plaintiff’s allegations suggest that the work environment may have been “hostile” in the ordinary (i.e., non-legal) sense, they were insufficient to give rise to a “hostile work environment” as that term has been defined by the courts.

In dismissing plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court reasoned:

Chinnery’s complaint alleges that he was “harassed and disrespected” during his time with OCFS, but provides no supporting facts. During his deposition, however, Chinnery testified that there was an incident in 2008 in which one of his supervisors threw paperwork down on a table, became “irate,” slammed a door nearly trapping Chinnery’s hand, and later yelled at him to “do [his]” job and “came at” him. Although Chinnery also testified that Rascoe and other supervisors sided with the errant supervisor rather than with him, this isolated incident appears to be the sole basis in the record for Chinnery’s allegation that he was “harassed and disrespected.” As such, it plainly is insufficient to support a hostile work environment claim. Moreover, Chinnery has not adduced any evidence that this or any other alleged workplace hostility occurred because of his race or gender. 

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