Alleged “Terrorist” (Etc.) Comments Were Insufficient to Survive Summary Judgment on Hostile Work Environment Claim; Retaliation Claim Dismissed For Failure to Exhaust Administrative (EEOC) Remedies

In Ahmed v. Astoria Bank, No. 14-CV-4595, 2016 WL 1254638 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2016), the court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of discrimination and hostile work environment (race, religion, national origin) and retaliation. This decision is instructive on what is required to survive summary judgment on a Title VII hostile work environment claim, as well as the necessity of exhausting administrative (i.e., EEOC) remedies.

Plaintiff sued after she was terminated from her employment at Astoria Bank at the end of her probationary period; the reasons given for her termination were tardiness and carelessness in checking important documents. Plaintiff, a Muslim of Egyptian and Arabic heritage, asserted, e.g., that: employees made remarks about “Arabic terrorists” and Arabic women covering their heads; she was denied a day off for a religious holiday; a Vice President made inappropriate jokes about plaintiff’s race, ethnicity and religion, including telling plaintiff to take the “rag” off of her head, referring to her hijab; and she was terminated on the pretext of inadequate performance.

Applying the law to the facts, Judge Weinstein held that plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim failed, since she “identified only a few incidents, primarily stray comments from two specific individuals, over a three-month period as the foundation for her claim.” In addition, “[h]er allegations – even if her contested testimony is accepted as true – are far from the steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments that is required, and it does not appear that any of the comments she unsupportedly alleges were made rise to the level of sufficiently severe to create a hostile work environment.”

The court also dismissed her retaliation claim, due to her failure to exhaust administrative remedies: “Plaintiff’s … EEOC charge included her discrimination claim but not her retaliation claim. … Where the EEOC charge alleges discrimination but not retaliation, the reasonable scope of the agency’s investigation cannot be expected to encompass allegations of retaliatory motive. … [N]othing in the [EEOC] Charge provided the EEOC adequate notice to investigate possible retaliation, and the claim of retaliation is not reasonably related to the allegations in the [EEOC] Charge.”

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