Religious Discrimination (Hostile Work Environment) Claim Not Stated; “Bible Ridicule” (Among Other) Allegations Insufficient

From Hammond v. New York-Presbyterian Hosp./Columbia University Medical Center, 2018 WL 1448072 (N.Y.Sup.), 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 30472(U) (NY Sup. Ct. March 20, 2018):

The allegations in plaintiff’s complaint do not make out a claim for hostile work environment based on her religion under either the state or local human rights laws. Plaintiff includes only three paragraphs (paragraphs 17-19) in the complaint relating to a hostile work environment based on her religion and these allegations, even when taken together, do not show a workplace permeated with intimidation and insult.

The first reference alleges that “Plaintiff was constantly subjected to ridicule for reading her Bible at her desk during her office breaks and lunch break” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 1, ¶ 17). Certainly, ‘ridiculing’ a co-worker for reading a Bible is unprofessional and unacceptable behavior. But even an offensive comment is not necessarily actionable (see Forrest v Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 NY3d 295, 311, 786 NYS2d 382 [2004] [finding that racial epithets, uttered on three occasions over nine years, did not support a claim for hostile work environment]). And, here, plaintiff has provided no details about the exact words that were used, the frequency of these statements or how it affected her ability to do her job.

The Court recognizes that plaintiff was not required to include specific details in her complaint. However, when Service Corp moved to dismiss, plaintiff had an opportunity to amplify her allegations with an affidavit or to bring on a cross-motion to amend her complaint. **5 Instead, plaintiff only offers a memorandum of law in opposition to the instant motion. Therefore, this Court is left with a complaint that vaguely refers to ridicule plaintiff supposedly received an unspecified number of times.

Paragraph 18 states that “Plaintiff was constantly subjected to ridicule for asking other staff members to give her the mini Bibles that would come in with shipments of steroids. The staff would usually throw these Bibles away and Plaintiff wanted to donate them, so she alerted the staff to give her the Bibles” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 1, ¶ 18). This allegation cannot support a cause of action for a hostile work environment (under either the state or city human rights laws). The Court does not know how many times plaintiff was ‘ridiculed,’ exactly what was said to plaintiff or what ‘ridiculed’ means to plaintiff. Making jokes at the expense of a co-worker, even unkind comments, does not automatically support a hostile work environment claim. Without knowing the nature of these comments or even whether plaintiff subjectively viewed these comments as abusive, the Court is unable to conclude that there is a cognizable cause of action. For example, calling her cheap for wanting to save mini bibles, and giving her nasty nicknames related to being cheap would be viewed differently from daily insults directly related to plaintiff’s belief in the bible’s teachings and her deeply held religious convictions.

Paragraph 19 alleges that “Plaintiff was often ridiculed about her scrubs not being tight enough on her body and that they were too baggy. However, Plaintiff wore the uniforms made specifically for her job and wearing a baggy uniform was a conscious decision Plaintiff made with respect to her religion” (id. ¶ 19). This allegation does not support a hostile work environment claim because it is unclear whether plaintiff was being made fun of because her uniform did not fit well or because of her religion. Moreover, plaintiff does not claim that she **6 told anyone that she wore a baggy uniform because of her religion. Obviously, a co-worker might make a nasty comment about someone’s appearance. But that, standing alone, cannot form the basis of a hostile work environment based on religion.

Even when taken together, these three allegations do not show that plaintiff worked in an abusive environment due to her religion. The Court is unable to discern the frequency and severity of the alleged discrimination that plaintiff supposedly faced from the complaint. The Court observes that plaintiff does not allege that she complained to a superior about this hostility based upon religion or how that purportedly abusive behavior affected her ability to do her job.

The remaining allegations in the complaint focus on the actions of defendant Littlejohn-but plaintiff does not allege that Littlejohn’s animosity was based on plaintiff’s religion. Instead, plaintiff contends that Littlejohn disliked plaintiff because plaintiff refused to do Littlejohn’s work for her. Even the allegations listed under the first cause of action (the state hostile work environment claim) reference only Littlejohn’s actions and leave out any mention of religion, except for the title of this claim (id. at 9-10). And the second cause of action (the city hostile work environment claim) does not mention religion either (see id. at 10-11).

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