Employment Discrimination / Hostile Work Environment Allegations Amounting to Rude Conduct Unmotivated by Discriminatory Animus Fail to State a Claim

A recent decision, DeLaurencio v. Brooklyn Children’s Center, Superintendent (EDNY May 29, 2015), reiterates that Title VII is not a “general civility code” and that “[w]ork environments that are hostile for non-discriminatory reasons do not fall within the ambit of Title VII.”

In this case, the court held that none of the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint suggest that the alleged harasser was hostile to plaintiff because of her sex, race, or national origin. Accordingly, it dismissed her race discrimination, national origin discrimination, gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and sexual harassment claims.

Specifically, plaintiff alleged that one of her co-workers, the alleged harasser

pushed her, left boxes in front of her filing cabinet, threw keys at her, called her “stupid,” taunted her for failing a civil service exam and for taking an empty basket and left-over food home, posted facially-neutral newspaper cartoons on a public bulletin board, broke her ceramic angels, failed to record that she had taken a sick day, and left a cockroach in her desk, a chicken bone on her filing cabinet, two pennies in her lunch bag, and mugs insulting her intelligence in a shared kitchen.

While this conduct is easily characterized (at best) as rude, mean-spirited, and unprofessional, it is legally insufficient:

[T]he sum of [plaintiff]’s allegations supports only one conclusion: that [the alleged harasser] harbored personal enmity toward her. … The facts do not suggest that [the alleged harasser]’s facially-neutral, albeit rude, conduct was motivated by discriminatory animus. Although it is not dispositive that all of these incidents are facially neutral, there is simply no factual basis for inferring discriminatory animus.

While plaintiff may have “been aggrieved by [the alleged harasser]’s inappropriate and unprofessional conduct” her claims failed because she “failed to plead that she was aggrieved on account of her sex, race or national origin.”

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