Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed; Negative Comments Insufficient

In Watkins v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., 2018 NY Slip Op 31054, 2018 WL 2445548 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Index No. 152836/2013, May 11, 2018), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

Here I will focus on the court’s assessment of plaintiff’s claim under the (comparatively broader) NYC Human Rights Law.

As to that claim, the court explained:

The NYCHRL hostile work environment claim, however, “does not require either materially adverse employment actions or severe or pervasive conduct” (Mihalik v Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F 3d 102, 114 [2d Cir 2013]). Rather, it requires a showing that “the alleged discriminatory conduct in question does not represent a ‘borderline’ situation” but exceeds “what a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider ‘petty slights and trivial inconveniences’ ” (Williams, 61 AD3d at 80). Whether statements may have been isolated is irrelevant in analyzing the claim under the NYCHRL, as a single comment may be actionable under the statute[.]

Here, plaintiff could not meet even this standard, which is comparatively lower than under the State Law:

Here, however, plaintiff provides little detail concerning the specific treatment he received except to say that Nnadi constantly yelled at him and referred to plaintiff as lazy on three to five occasions over the course of three years, and called him a trickster on one occasion. In Donahue v Asia TV USA Ltd. (208 F Supp 3d 505), the Southern District of New York, in interpreting the NYCHRL found that the plaintiff’s national origin claim survived as defendant told plaintiff that Americans were lazy and suggested retirement (see also Gonzalez v EVG, Inc., 123 AD3d 486, 487-488 [1st Dept 2014] [constant use of language degrading women, telling of sexually explicit jokes, and overt viewing of pornography in the workplace can be characterized as being subject to differential treatment sufficient to sustain NYCHRL hostile work environment claim]; Okeke v New York & Presbyterian Hosp., 275 F Supp 3d 470, 486 [SD NY 2017] [regularly calling the plaintiffs “too old” “incompetent” “slow” and “lazy” found “more than sufficient to sustain jury’s verdict on NYCHRL claim]).

The court concluded by noting that, even if the conduct alleged by plaintiff rose above the threshold level, there was “no evidence that defendants’ behavior was motivated because of his protected status.”

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