Second Circuit Invokes the “Equal Opportunity Jerk” Principle in Affirming Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim

In Dotel v. Walmart Stores, Inc., No. 15-76-CV, 2016 WL 158466, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 14, 2016) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint against Walmart Stores alleging sex discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As to her hostile work environment claim, the court invoked the “Equal Opportunity Jerk” principle (though not by name):

Under Title VII, a plaintiff must produce enough evidence to show that the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. [M]istreatment at work, whether through subjection to a hostile environment or through [other means], is actionable under Title VII only when it occurs because of an employee’s … protected characteristic, such as gender. Assuming arguendo that Dotel believes she was the victim of a sex-based hostile work environment, the record lacks objective evidence from which to raise a material question of fact sufficient for her suit to survive summary judgment. Dotel argues that her supervisor engaged in abusive insults and verbal harassment of herself and other women on a daily basis, and while the majority of those insults were gender-neutral on their face, each could also be read as insulting to women. However, the record does not support such a finding. Dotel’s contemporaneous written complaints make no mention of gender-based comments directed toward her, and there is no evidence in the record to suggest her supervisor treated the female associates in the department differently than the one male associate. Indeed, the strongest inference that can be drawn from the record is that the supervisor was rude to all the department’s associates. Although Dotel also alleged that her supervisor had stated that “women [are] good for nothing,” this isolated statement is not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [Dotel’s] employment and create an abusive working environment. (Emphasis added.)

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