Disability-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed

In Williams v. Anne Geiger and Department of Education, 2020 WL 1304397 (S.D.N.Y. March 19, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In order to establish a hostile work environment claim, plaintiff was required to show two elements: (1) the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her work environment; and (2) the harassment was based on her disability.

As to the first element, the court explained:

Despite Williams’s subjective belief that Geiger’s treatment was hostile, the Court finds that no “reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse.” Terry, 336 F.3d at 148. The three incidents that Williams describes over a 15-month period are the kind of occasional, “[r]un-of-the-mill workplace conflicts” that “do not rise to the level of an objectively hostile workplace.” Harvin, 767 F. App’x at 128; Brennan, 192 F.3d at 318 (explaining that “occasional episodes do not warrant relief”); see Nugent, 303 F. App’x at 944 (finding “derogatory language,” “dismissive comments,” “attempts to create a paper trail,” and “intense scrutiny” were “insufficiently severe and pervasive” to survive summary judgment). Williams does not point to any evidence that Geiger’s isolated comments prevented her from completing her assignments, whether in the records room, the guidance office, or elsewhere in the High School. See Rasmy, 2020 WL 1069441, at *14 (relevant factors in assessing hostile work environment include “whether [alleged misconduct] unreasonably interferes with the victim’s [job] performance”). In addition, Geiger was not Williams’s immediate supervisor, and Williams does not show that they interacted on a regular basis; that Williams may have had a “fraught” relationship with Geiger did not transform the work environment, as a whole, into a hostile one. Harvin, 767 F. App’x at 128; see Harris, 510 U.S. at 23 (requiring holistic view of working environment); Rasmy, 2020 WL 1069441, at *4 (same). Accordingly, from an objective point of view, the conduct that Williams has identified is insufficiently severe or pervasive to support a hostile work environment claim.

Turning to the next element, the court held that “[e]ven if a reasonable juror could conclude that Geiger’s conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive, Williams offers no evidence to show that her disability or her request for a reasonable accommodation were the basis for Geiger’s conduct.”

Specifically, here, the undisputed evidence showed that, among other things, defendant granted and implemented plaintiff’s requests for reasonable accommodation; defendant approved plaintiff’s requests for leave for restoration of health and approved her request for disability retirement; and plaintiff did not show how a reasonable juror could conclude that any “facially neutral incident” was based on her disability.

In sum, the court concluded that there was “no nexus between the alleged hostility and [plaintiff’s] disability.”

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