Walmart Awarded Summary Judgment on Religion-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim

In Chavis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 15 CIV. 4288 (DC), 2017 WL 3037536 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 2017), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her religion.

Specifically, plaintiff – an Asset Protection Manager at the Suffern Walmart store – requested a religious accommodation allowing her not to work on Sundays so she could observe the Sabbath, and filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contending that Walmart employees unlawfully harassed her and discriminated against her on the basis of her religion and retaliated against her for pursuing her accommodation request.

In dismissing her hostile work environment claim, the court explained:

Notwithstanding Chavis’s subjective perception, the conduct alleged was not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment. In support of her claim, Chavis alleges that she was subject to increased review and surveillance, a single unwarranted disciplinary coaching, the disclosure of her accommodation to other store employees, a comment by Sherry Savage, the Market Asset Protection Manager … for the Suffern store, in front of other employees that Savage would need to grant Chavis an exception from the dress code to continue wearing skirts, and a comment by John Flowers, the Regional Asset Protection Manager … who oversaw Savage, describing Chavis as “the fuel that feeds the fire.” … The complained-of conduct was not frequent—Chavis cites several visits by supervisors to the Suffern store from November 2013 to October 2014, two isolated comments from Flowers and Savage, and a single disciplinary report that, according to Chavis, had no impact on her employment and expired after one year.3 While Chavis felt humiliated by Savage’s reference to her attire, that isolated incident does not rise to level of severity needed to sustain a hostile work environment claim. …

Furthermore, there is no evidence from which a jury could infer that the purportedly harassing conduct was related to Chavis’s religion. Accepting as true Chavis’s version of events, the conduct described appears facially neutral. Judith O’Gara, the Suffern store’s other APM, was subject to the same increased surveillance and coaching that Chavis was. See Chavis Dep. at 32–38. Savage’s comment about Chavis’s clothing could be read to reflect some religious insensitivity; as discussed above, however, this isolated incident is insufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment. Similarly, while the comment that Chavis was “the fuel that feeds the fire” could reflect some animosity towards Chavis, there is nothing in that statement from which a jury could infer that it was made because of Chavis’s religious beliefs. While, as discussed further below, the record evidence supports an inference of retaliatory animus, no rational jury could conclude that the hostile comments and surveillance that Chavis faced were related to her religion.

The court did, however, deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of retaliation and failure to promote.

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