Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed Due to Lack of Administrative Exhaustion

In Ray v. New York State Insurance Fund, 16-cv-2895, 2018 WL 3475467 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 2018), the court, inter alia, dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because the plaintiff did not “exhaust administrative remedies.”

The court summarized the law:

“[E]xhaustion of administrative remedies through the EEOC stands as an essential element of Title VII’s statutory scheme,” Francis v. City of New York, 235 F.3d 763, 768 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted), but “filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court,” Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982). “[T]he burden of pleading and proving [lack of] Title VII exhaustion lies with defendants and operates as an affirmative defense.” Hardaway v. Hartford Pub. Works Dep’t, 879 F.3d 486, 491 (2d Cir. 2018).

“Before bringing a Title VII suit in federal court, an individual must first present ‘the claims forming the basis of such a suit … in a complaint to the EEOC or the equivalent state agency.’ ” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 322 (quoting Williams v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth., 458 F.3d 67, 69 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). There need not, however, be perfect overlap between the claims raised administratively and the claims advanced in a Title VII suit. “Claims not raised in an EEOC complaint” nonetheless “may be brought in federal court if they are ‘reasonably related’ to the claim filed with the agency.” Williams, 458 F.3d at 70. “In determining whether claims are reasonably related, the focus should be ‘on the factual allegations made in the [EEOC] charge itself, describing the discriminatory conduct about which a plaintiff is grieving.’ ” Deravin v. Kerik, 335 F.3d 195, 201 (2d Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Freeman v. Oakland Unified Sch. Dist., 291 F.3d 632, 637 (9th Cir. 2002)). “The central question is whether the complaint filed with the EEOC gave that agency ‘adequate notice to investigate discrimination on both bases.’ ” Williams, 458 F.3d at 70 (quoting Deravin, 335 F.3d at 202).

Though “the ‘reasonably related’ inquiry requires a fact-intensive analysis,” Mathirampuzha v. Potter, 548 F.3d 70, 76 (2d Cir. 2008), the Second Circuit has recognized that “[h]ostile environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts,” id. (quoting Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 115 (2002)). Accordingly, courts in this district have consistently held that “allegations in the EEOC charge [that] relate solely to several discrete instances of alleged discrimination or retaliation … are insufficient to exhaust a hostile work environment claim.” Batiste v. City Univ. of N.Y., No. 16 Civ. 3358 (VEC), 2017 WL 2912525, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. July 7, 2017) (quoting Perez v. N.Y. & Presbyterian Hosp., No. 05 Civ. 5749 (LBS), 2009 WL 3634038, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 3, 2009)); see also Wright v. N.Y.C. Off-Track Betting Corp., No. 05 Civ. 9790 (WHP), 2008 WL 762196, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 2008) (“[P]resenting a disparate treatment or retaliation claim to the EEOC will not exhaust a hostile work environment claim.”). Rather, “to properly exhaust [such a] claim, a plaintiff must actually allege a hostile work environment claim in his EEOC Charge.” Khater v. API Indus., Inc., No. 16 Civ. 6695 (CS), 2017 WL 6515531, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2017) (alteration in original) (quoting Levitant v. Hilt N.Y. Waldorf LLC, No. 10 Civ. 4667 (PKC), 2012 WL 414515, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2012)). Ray offers no reason for departing from this well-established line of authority.

Applying the law, the court noted that plaintiff “offers no reason for departing from this well-established line of authority. It elaborated:

Accordingly, [plaintiff’s] hostile work environment claim fails for lack of administrative exhaustion. At no point in her February 2015 intake questionnaire, her March 2015 letter, or her September 2015 amended charge did [plaintiff] explicitly assert that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment.[] Nor did her filings raise a hostile work environment claim in substance without attaching the specific label. Rather, those filings assert, at most, six discrete instances of maltreatment occurring over a five-year period between 2009 and 2014 (if not longer). Allegations of these discrete incidents do not exhaust a Title VII hostile work environment claim, see, e.g., Batiste, 2017 WL 2912525, at *6; Wright, 2008 WL 762196, at *3, and Ray’s failure to exhaust her administrative remedies alone warrants dismissal of her hostile work environment claim.

Share This: