Alleged Threats of Death and Termination Insufficient to Allege a Cause of Action for a Hostile Work Environment Under the NYC Human Rights Law

A recent New York Supreme Court case, Spellman v. Gucci Am. Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 31728(U) (Sup. Ct. NY Cty. Sept. 11, 2015), illustrates that “hostility” disconnected from the plaintiff’s protected class is insufficient to state a cause of action, even under the relatively broad NYC Human Rights Law. The court dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under CPLR 3211 for failure to state a cause of action.

In this case, plaintiff alleged among other things that, while employed as a sales representative of defendant Gucci, her supervisor (defendant Greg Nakama) “stated that he would kill Plaintiff and fire her”, which she claimed was due in part to plaintiff’s gender.

The court reiterated the law that “[f]or [liability under the NYC Human Rights Law] the primary issue for a trier of fact in harassment cases, as in other terms and conditions cases, is whether the plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she has been treated less well than other employees because of her gender.” (Quoting Williams v. NYC Hous. Auth., 61 AD3d 62 (NY App Div 1st Dept 2009) (Emphasis added.)

In explaining why the plaintiff failed to state a hostile work environment claim under the NYC Human Rights Law, Judge Kalish explained:

Upon review of the Plaintiffs pleadings and the submitted papers, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs allegations as alleged in her pleadings do not give rise to a cognizable theory under the NYCHRL against Gucci. Specifically, the factual allegations, if true, are insufficient to make out a claim that Mr. Nakama’s alleged comments towards the Plaintiff were based upon her gender. The Plaintiff alleges that on two specific instances (February 5, 2014 and March 29, 2014 respectively) Mr. Nakama stated that he would kill Plaintiff and fire her; and that “he would kill us and knock us on the upside of the head”. However, the Plaintiff stated in an anonymous email to human resources that Mr. Nakama directed his February 5, 2014 comments towards the Plaintiff and two other employees, one of whom was male. The Plaintiff confirms in her affidavit that Mr. Nakama made the February 5, 2014 statement to the Plaintiff while other employees were present, including a male employee. The Plaintiff further confirms in her affidavit that Mr. Nakama directed the March 29, 2014 statement at the Plaintiff ·and her co-workers. There is nothing from the Plaintiffs description of Mr. Nakama’s March 29, 2014 statement or the substance of the statement itself to suggest that it was aimed towards the Plaintiff based upon her gender. Further, although the Plaintiff states in her affirmation that she “felt” that Mr. Nakama specifically directed said comments at the Plaintiff based upon her gender, there is nothing in the Plaintiffs allegations to support her subjective opinion that said comments were directly aimed at her based upon her gender. The Plaintiff merely states in conclusory terms that she subjectively believed that the remarks made by Mr. Nakama were directed to her because she was a female. However there is no reasonable basis for such a belief as alleged.

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