Sexual Harassment (Hostile Work Environment) Claim Survives Summary Judgment Against NYC Health & Hospitals Corp.; Court Cites Deterioration of Relationship Following Rejection of Sexual Advances

In Bond v New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., No. 160658/2013, 2020 WL 1031393 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Feb. 25, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim alleging that her supervisor subjected her to a hostile work environment after she rejected his sexual advances.

The court held that triable issues of fact existed, such that the case should be decided by a jury, rather than as a matter of law by the court.

This decision provides an instructive overview of how courts evaluate summary judgment motions with respect to claims of hostile work environment sexual harassment asserted under the New York City Human Rights Law.

From the decision:

Here, one portion of plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim includes the claim that Binder subjected her to a hostile work environment after she rejected his sexual advances. In the other portion, plaintiff “relies on HHC stripping away her duties, which culminated in her constructive discharge . . . as part of . . . her gender discrimination claim.” Plaintiff’s memorandum of law at 15. Accordingly, similar to the analysis in Surt v Grey Global Group, Inc., supra, this court will separate these claims and will not apply the burden shifting framework to Binder’s alleged sexual advance and his subsequent demeaning conduct towards plaintiff.

Plaintiff testified about the incident where Binder showed up at her hotel room. She provided examples of how, prior to the South Carolina incident, Binder praised and supported her work and she was able to work independently. However, after she rejected Binder’s sexual advances, she noticed a change in his attitude towards her and felt that he was punishing her for rejecting him. Binder allegedly began to micromanage her, criticize the same work that he once praised and question her capabilities. Binder ultimately directed two of plaintiff’s team members to report to him directly, thereby allegedly undermining plaintiff’s position.

In the present case, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, she has raised a triable issue of fact that, after the South Carolina incident, Binder treated her less well than other employees due to her gender. As in Suri v Grey Global Group, Inc., if plaintiff’s testimony is credited that “her treatment at the workplace deteriorated in the wake of [the South Carolina incident], then a jury could find that such behavior did not constitute petty slights or trivial inconveniences.”