Court Dismisses Superintendent’s Sexual Harassment Claims

In Britt v. Thermald Realty I, LP, No. 13 CIV. 8289 KPF, 2015 WL 4922977 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2015), the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment” sexual harassment, as well as his retaliation claim. In sum, plaintiff – a superintendent for East Village property owner Thermald Realty – alleged that one of Thermald’s partners (female Alderman)

subjected him to unwanted sexual advances, which culminated in his participation in coerced sexual acts on two occasions in 2007. He further contends that after he refused to continue their sexual relationship, Alderman’s treatment of Plaintiff changed: she became openly hostile to him, refused payments he was owed, denied him bonuses and opportunities to perform outside contracting jobs, and eventually terminated his employment as superintendent in 2013.

In dismissing plaintiff’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, the court noted:

Plaintiff cites his eventual termination in 2013 as the tangible change in employment he suffered. But Plaintiff presents no explanation as to how his refusal to have sex with Alderman in 2007 (or, reading Plaintiff’s affidavit most generously, in October 2011) was used as the basis for his termination in 2013. The lack of temporal proximity, or of any other intervening sexual advances and refusals, defeats any inference that his termination was the culmination of quid pro quo harassment.

The court next explained why plaintiff failed to establish his hostile work environment claim:

In sum, after 2007, Plaintiff complains that Alderman was unreasonably demanding of him, required him to perform work outside the scope of his employment, insulted his intelligence in the presence of others, prohibited him from holding rehearsals in his basement workshop unit, and withheld certain payments from him. These “[f]acially neutral incidents” cannot sustain a hostile work environment claim. There is simply no “circumstantial or other basis for inferring that [these] incidents [that are] sex-neutral on their face were in fact discriminatory,” and no “reasonable fact-finder could conclude that they were, in fact, based on sex.” …

[T]he nature of Alderman’s conduct—her insults to Plaintiff’s intelligence, her vocal dissatisfaction with his performance, and her assignment to him of tasks outside the scope of his superintendent duties—does not raise an inference of discrimination based on Plaintiff’s sex.

… Alderman’s conduct was not physically threatening, and, while Plaintiff surely did not wish to have his intelligence impugned, such sex-neutral excoriation cannot alone form the basis of Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim. … There is, similarly, no evidence that Alderman’s intermittent contact with Plaintiff interfered with his work. Finally, although Plaintiff testified that he had started taking antidepressants several months after he was terminated, for a period of a few weeks, there is no evidence that (i) he suffered psychological harm while exposed to Alderman’s alleged hostility; or (ii) he continues to suffer from any concomitant psychological issues.

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