Hostile Work Environment Dismissal Affirmed; 2d Circuit Discusses & Applies Negligence Standard Under Title VII

In a recent case, Martin v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 2020 WL 1514747 (2d Cir. March 30, 2020) (Summary Order), the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This decision is instructive as to the standard applied when it is a non-supervisory co-worker – as opposed to a “supervisor” – who is engaging engages in the allegedly harassing conduct.

The court summarized the law as follows:

Where a hostile work environment is created by the plaintiff’s non-supervisory coworkers, an employer’s vicarious liability depends on the plaintiff showing that the employer knew (or reasonably should have known) about the harassment but failed to take appropriate remedial action. Otherwise stated, we apply a negligence standard to determine whether an employer may be held liable for a hostile work environment that was created by a coworker who was not the victim’s supervisor. On appeal, Martin does not meaningfully contest the district court’s conclusion that Jeffrey Rorick, the individual responsible for the hostile work environment at issue, was a non-supervisory coworker, and has accordingly forfeited any argument to that effect. We therefore apply a negligence standard to determine whether DOCCS may be held liable for the consequences of Rorick’s behavior. Under that standard, an employer with knowledge of a hostile work environment must take reasonable steps to remedy it. Whether the [employer’s] response was reasonable has to be assessed from the totality of circumstances. Factors to be considered in this analysis are the gravity of the harm being inflicted upon the plaintiff, the nature of the employer’s response in light of the employer’s resources, and the nature of the work environment. [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]

Applying the law, the court agreed with the lower court that the defendant “acted reasonably under the circumstances” in that “the remedial steps taken by DOCCS were both reasonable and sufficiently expeditious.”