Two Age-Related Comments Insufficient to Establish Liability Under the NYC Human Rights Law, Court Holds

A recent Southern District case, Moore v. Verizon, No. 13-CV-6467 (RJS), 2016 WL 825001 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2016), illustrates that the New York City Human Rights Law – while the broadest of the anti-discrimination statutes protecting New York City employees and residents – is not of unlimited breadth.

Here, plaintiff (a 62 year-old African American woman who suffers from asthma and back pain) asserts race, gender, age, and disability discrimination in violation of, e.g., the NYC Human Rights Law.

In dismissing plaintiff’s NYCHRL age discrimination (hostile work environment) claim, the court explained:

Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint alleges that Dixon [plaintiff’s immediate supervisor] “persistently questioned [her] about retiring” and once remarked on Plaintiff’s hearing loss. Plaintiff further claims that Dixon and other managers threatened to monitor her, insulted her, and isolated her within the office environment. But only Dixon’s comments regarding retirement and hearing loss are at all related to Plaintiff’s age. Moreover, Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint only specifically alleges a handful of these arguably age related comments during Dixon’s brief tenure in Plaintiff’s office—including “why don’t you retire,” “are you old enough to retire,” and one comment about hearing loss—and it does not allege that such comments continued after Plaintiff stopped working for Dixon. Indeed, a recent case in this district held that a plaintiff’s allegation that defendants “ ‘frequently’ told plaintiff ‘you’re too old’ and asked when he was going to retire” was “simply too vague” to support a hostile work environment claim. Accordingly, Plaintiff does not sufficiently allege a pervasively hostile work environment “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” based on age in violation of federal and state law.

While the Court is mindful of the “uniquely broad and remedial” purposes of NYCHRL, the conduct alleged here is “far from a borderline” violation. Although the First Amended Complaint alleges “persistent” questioning by Dixon regarding when Plaintiff planned to retire, Plaintiff does not specify an exemplary handful of occasions on which Dixon commented regarding her age and, in fact, only recounts two such statements. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges only one incident where Dixon remarked on Plaintiff’s hearing loss. As such, these incidents are insufficient to support a claim of hostile work environment based on age even under [the New York City Human Rights Law]’s broad provisions. (Emphasis added.)

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s NYCHRL retaliation claim, finding no evidence of temporal proximity between plaintiff’s protected activity (EEO and EEOC complaints) and adverse actions (suspensions and termination). Specifically, “the shortest period between Plaintiff’s complaint of discrimination and an adverse employment action, as these events are alleged in the operative pleading, is four months.”

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