ADA-Based Discrimination and Retaliation, but not Hostile Work Environment, Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Sherman v. County of Suffolk, the Eastern District of New York addressed plaintiff’s discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The court held that plaintiff presented enough evidence to overcome summary judgment on his ADA discrimination claim:

[W]hile the Plaintiff does not point to any direct evidence of discriminatory intent, such as derogatory statements made by the Individual Defendants with respect to the Plaintiff’s “disability,” the Plaintiff has, in the Court’s view, set forth sufficient circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent on the basis of the Plaintiff’s “disability.” Indeed, there is evidence in the record that the Plaintiff informed a supervisor that he needed surgery the day of or the day before his termination. … Further buttressing an inference of discriminatory intent is Sherrill’s testimony that to, his knowledge and personal observation, he had never seen the use of “minimal[ly] acceptable” scores on an evaluation used as a basis of termination for an employee.

Next, for the same reasons supporting plaintiff’s traditional ADA discrimination claim, the court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s ADA-based retaliation claim.

It held, however, that plaintiff could not survive summary judgment on his hostile work environment claim.

Citing Patane v. Clark (2d Cir. 2007) and Harris v. Forklift Systems (U.S. Sup. Ct. 1993), Judge Spatt explained:

Assuming that a hostile work environment claim is cognizable under the ADA, a plaintiff must plead facts that would tend to show that the complained of conduct: (1) is objectively severe or pervasive—that is, … creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s [disability]. Whether a workplace is a hostile work environment under the provisions of the ADA requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances. These include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it [was] physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interfere[d] with [the plaintiff’s] work performance.

Applying the law, the court held:

Considering these factors, the Court concludes that the Plaintiff fails to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to a hostile work environment claim under the ADA. The summary judgment record indicates that the Plaintiff was berated “at times,” but never in front of his peers; that he was required to use the stairs instead of the elevator despite his injury; and that he was instructed to write verbatim from a recruit guidebook.
In the Court’s view, these incidents, along other incidents referenced in the record, do not rise to the level of “severe or pervasive” to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment on the basis of the Plaintiff’s disability or perceived disability. Stated otherwise, drawing all inferences in the Plaintiff’s favor, no rational juror could find that “the workplace was so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of [Plaintiff’s] employment were thereby altered. This is particularly so given that the Plaintiff acknowledged that training at the Academy was conducted in a “paramilitary” environment.
Accordingly, the Court grants that part of the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the ADA.
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