Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Relate to the Neighborhood” Comment Deemed Insufficient

In Cunningham v. New York Junior Tennis League, Inc., 18-CV-1743, 2020 WL 916964 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2020), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claims.

After summarizing the legal standards for hostile work environment claims under federal, state, and city law, the court applied the law to the facts.

From the decision:

Measured against these standards, Cunningham’s hostile work environment claims fall short. In particular, Cunningham fails to allege, let alone prove, behavior “so extraordinarily severe … to have altered the conditions of [his] working environment.” Cruz v. Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 570 (2d Cir. 2000), superseded on other grounds by N.Y.C. Local L. No. 85. Once again, Cunningham alleges only a single statement by Wiese that is even arguably based on his race — namely, his statement about the maintenance workers being able to “relate to the neighborhood” because they were “from the neighborhood.” Am. Compl. 6; see Pl.’s Dep. at 13, 90, 115. That “[i]solated” comment by the person who hired Cunningham was not “extraordinarily severe” and therefore “do[es] not meet the threshold of severity or pervasiveness” for a claim of hostile work environment under federal or state law. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 374 (2d Cir. 2002); see, e.g., Brown v. Coach Stores, Inc., 163 F.3d 706, 713 (2d Cir. 1998) (holding that a supervisor’s racist remarks, although “despicable and offensive,” “fail[ed] to constitute discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to cause a hostile environment”). The effect of Wiese’s alleged comment on the work environment was not even severe enough to support a claim under the NYCHRL. See, e.g., Fullwood v. Ass’n for the Help of Retarded Children, Inc., No. 08-CV-6739 (DAB), 2010 WL 3910429, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2010).

Based on this, the court concluded that plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims must be dismissed.