Notice of Claim Sufficiently Alleged Hostile Work Environment, Court Rules

In Hogue v. Bd. of Educ. of the City School Dist. of the City of New York, No. 150393/2019, 2019 WL 6467588 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Dec. 02, 2019), the court, inter alia, permitted plaintiff to amend her complaint alleging a hostile work environment.

I write here to address one aspect of the court’s decision, which is instructive as to the necessary content of a Notice of Claim which must be filed in the case of governmental entities (here, the New York City Department of Education).

Specifically, the court held that plaintiff’s Notice of Claim sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment:

[T]he court rejects defendants’ position that the notice of claim does not assert a claim for hostile work environment and that, therefore, the cause of action must be dismissed (see Dipoumbi v New York City Police Dept., 150 AD3d 467, 468 [1st Dept 2017] [affirming dismissal of claims on this basis]). “A notice of claim is sufficient if it includes information that enables a municipal agency to investigate and evaluate the merits of a claim” (Bennett v New York City Tr. Auth., 4 AD3d 265, 266 [1st Dept 2004], affd. 3 NY3d 745 [2004]). The notice must substantially rather than literally comply with its requirements (Castro v City of New York, 141 AD3d 456, 459 [1st Dept 2016] [municipal law does not demand “literal nicety or exactness”] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). Here, the notice describes the claim as “based upon the Respondents[‘s] violations of Claimant’s statutory and constitutional rights by means of unlawful race discrimination, … and retaliation” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 13 [Notice of Claim]). In the section entitled “Date, Time, and Manner in which the Claims Arose,” the notice refers twice to the hostile work environment: first, when it states that after Fanning became principal, plaintiff “saw a marked decline in her work environment” which was related to his “horrendous discrimination”; and second, when it states that plaintiff’s “work environment continued to worsen” during the 2014/2015 school year” (id.). Defendants’ argument is based on a reading of the first sentence of the notice rather than on the entire document and, as such, lacks merit.