Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; While Conduct Was “Abusive” There Was No Basis For Imputing it to Employer

In Murphy v. Wappingers Central School District, 15-cv-7460, 2018 WL 1831847 (S.D.N.Y. April 16, 2018), the court dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

In sum, the court held that the alleged harasser (DeFazio) created an “abusive” environment for the plaintiff, but that plaintiff could not show that the harasser’s conduct should be imputed to the entity defendant.

As to whether there was an actionable hostile work environment, the court explained:

Here, plaintiff testified that between June 2011 and August 2012 DeFazio touched, pinched, or grabbed him multiple times per week, and regularly discussed sex and her sexual preferences. In addition, on April 8, 2013, DeFazio stood behind plaintiff, lifted her shirt, put her hands on her head, and performed a lewd “wiggle-dance.” Plaintiff thus describes multiple, specific instances in which DeFazio’s conduct made him “extremely embarrassed and very, very annoyed.” … There is no question a reasonable jury could conclude DeFazio’s behavior toward plaintiff was severe, pervasive, and physically humiliating, and created an abusive working environment for plaintiff.

However, the court held that – applying the standards articulated by the Supreme Court in Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. 421 (2013) – plaintiff could not prove that liability should be imputed to the employer.

Specifically, plaintiff was unable to show that the harasser was their “supervisor,” and that therefore, under Vance, plaintiff was required to prove that the employer was “negligent in controlling working conditions.” There was no such evidence.

For example, the court noted that “there is no evidence to suggest the District failed to respond to complaints of harassment” and that, [t]o the contrary, it is undisputed that plaintiff did not complain about DeFazio’s absuive conduct for more than a year and a half after the conduct began” and “that within weeks of plaintiff’s complaint, the District undertook an investigation” after which it “issued a report finding plaintiff’s complaint substantiated, and disciplined DeFazio.”

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