Court Upholds Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment Finding in Corrections Employee’s Favor by State Division of Human Rights

In Rensselaer Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t v. New York State Div. of Human Rights, No. 520239, 2015 WL 4757612 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dept. Aug. 13, 2015), the court upheld the determination of the New York State Division of Human Rights that the petitioner engaged in unlawful gender discrimination.

The court discussed some of the evidence presented that supported its decision to uphold the decision in plaintiff’s favor:

According to Seabury, after reporting coworker Richard Fenton for offenses that included sleeping on the job and previously grabbing her buttocks and breasts without her consent, Seabury began to be increasingly harassed by male friends of Fenton, who had been suspended as a result of the initial reports. Seabury testified that this group of men, along with Fenton, were known by the name “the boys club” within the correctional facility. Seabury further testified that one of her supervisors, Captain Hal Smith, also referred to the group of men by that phrase. According to Seabury, members of the boys club began to level slurs at both Seabury and another female employee who had reported Fenton for sexual harassment, slurs that included rat, bitch, slut and whore. The men also began making rat noises while in the presence of the two female employees. According to Seabury, one such male employee stated, “That f***ing bitch don’t miss a f***ing trick” in reference to Seabury and while in her presence. Seabury explained that this harassment occurred on a daily basis and that she always reported the incidents to Smith. Seabury testified that Smith would tell her, “be tough” and “[y]ou need to be strong,” but failed to reprimand the offending employees. Seabury also testified that Smith communicated that he held different professional expectations for the alleged male harrasers than for Seabury, informing her that “boys will be boys” and “you know how those boys are.”

The court concluded that, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, “there is a rational basis for the determination that, but for Seabury’s gender, she would not have suffered the harassment that she described and that such harassment altered the conditions of her employment so as to create an abusive work environment.”


Notably, the ALJ credited Seabury’s testimony, and this Court will defer to that determination. Relying on that credited testimony, the proof established that the persons harassing Seabury were all male members of a group of friends and coworkers who were identified, as a group, by their gender. In addition, many of the slurs leveled at Seabury and the other female who reported Fenton’s sexual harassment invoked the victims’ gender. Further, a reasonable person could conclude that Smith indicated to Seabury that he held different expectations for male and female employees and that women employees were required to be strong and tough while male employees were permitted to “be boys,” without any reprimand. At a minimum, such statements by Smith and his lack of corrective action condoned such conduct, and there is a rational inference that Smith’s directive to Seabury, his inferior, that she should confront one of the offenders regarding his gender-based harassment of another female employee effectively encouraged the harassment that Seabury suffered. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s determination was rational in light of the evidence presented.

As for damages, the court upheld the award of $300,000 for noneconomic injuries, noting:

Seabury testified that the male coworkers’ harassment led to extensive psychological trauma that included suicidal ideations and required medication. Seabury’s psychiatrist confirmed these reports and testified that he had diagnosed Seabury with posttraumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. The psychiatrist opined that the causes of such conditions were Seabury’s frequent and recurring thoughts regarding the harassment that she suffered at the correctional facility. Considering Seabury’s testimony and the medical proof elaborating on the severe effects that the discrimination had on her, the award is reasonably related to the wrongdoing, supported by substantial evidence and comparable to awards for similar injuries.

The court also increased the award for past lost wages from $107,558.51 to $195,758.51 and increased the award for future lost wages from $208,837.02 to $385,237.02.

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