Hostile Work Environment Claim Not Alleged; Discrete Incident of Discrimination Relating to Denial of Tenure Not Enough

In Yang Zhao v. Keuka College, 2017 WL 3917145 (W.D.N.Y., 2017), plaintiff – a U.S. Citizen of Chinese origin – alleged that she was denied tenure because of her ethnicity, race, and national origin.

The court held that plaintiff did not sufficiently allege a hostile work environment claim:

Plaintiff has not alleged a hostile work environment. The factual allegations in the proposed amended complaint do not allege a sufficient quality or quantity of harassment so as to lead to a plausible conclusion that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse. Instead, Plaintiff complains of a discrete incident of discrimination, related to the denial of tenure. (See Dkt. 16–1). Plaintiff does not allege that she was the subject of frequent and/or severe harassment by Defendants or others. The alleged discriminatory statements occurred, primarily, in one written document—Forestell’s March 25, 2015, recommendation. (See Dkt. 16–1 at ¶¶ 31–65). As Plaintiff notes, “[h]ostile environment claims by their very nature involve repeated conduct.” (Dkt. 15–1 at 10); see also McGullam v. Cedar Graphics, Inc., 609 F.3d 70, 75 (2d Cir. 2010) (“[H]ostile work environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts. Their very nature involves repeated conduct. The ‘unlawful employment practice’ therefore cannot be said to occur on any particular day. It occurs over a series of days or perhaps years and, in direct contrast to discrete acts, a single act of harassment may not be actionable on its own.” (quoting Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 115, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106 (2002)). But Plaintiff alleges no repeated conduct, only discrete acts. Plaintiff complains of particular statements, made in a single document, recommending denial of tenure. She also complains that she was denied tenure discriminatorily. These actions, viewed in the aggregate, do not state a plausible claim that Plaintiff was subject to a hostile work environment. Indeed, no reasonable view of the March 25, 2015, letter could justify construing it as rising to actionable severe or pervasive conduct necessary to state a claim for a hostile work environment. (See Dkt. 15–2 at 69–74). Thus, Plaintiff has failed to allege a hostile work environment claim.

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