Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Conduct Evidenced “Personality Conflicts”

In Yarrington v. Candor Central School District et al, 18-cv-1250, 2020 WL 1493920 (N.D.N.Y. March 27, 2020), the court (inter alia) granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court summarized the law as follows:

In order to state a claim for a hostile work environment under Title VII, the underlying harassment alleged ‘must be sufficiently severe or pervasive,’ both subjectively and objectively, ‘to alter the conditions of [the plaintiff’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.” Seale v. Madison Cnty., 929 F. Supp. 2d 51, 66 (N.D.N.Y. 2013) (Suddaby, J.) (quoting Redd [v. New York Div. of Parole,] 678 F.3d [166,] 175 [ (2d Cir. 2012) ] (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67, 106 S. Ct. 2399, 91 L. Ed. 2d 49 (1986); Harris, 510 U.S. at 21-22, 114 S. Ct. 367)). “Further, the plaintiff must allege facts plausibly suggesting that the hostile or abusive treatment was because of his or her membership in a class of persons protected by Title VII.” Id. (citing Redd, 678 F.3d at 175). “The types of workplace conduct that may be actionable on a claim for hostile work environment based on sex ‘include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.’ ” Id. (quoting Meritor [Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson,] 477 U.S. [57,] 65, 106 S. Ct. 2399 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a) (1985))). “A determination of whether an environment is objectively hostile or abusive requires an evaluation of all the circumstances, such as ‘the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.’ ” Id. (quoting Redd, 678 F.3d at 175) (citing Harris, 510 U.S. at 23, 114 S. Ct. 367)). *7 “It is important to keep in mind, however, that ‘while the central statutory purpose of Title VII was eradicating discrimination in employment, Title VII does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.’ ” Id. (quotation omitted). “Title VII is ‘meant to protect individuals from abuse and trauma that is severe[, but is] not intended to promote or enforce civility, gentility or even decency.

In applying the law, the court noted, inter alia, that plaintiff did not dispute defendants’ contention that her complaint boils down to “petty personality conflicts” with a non-supervisory co-worker; that plaintiff conceded that that co-worker “never used any negative gender-based language towards her or touched her in an inappropriate manner due to her gender”; and that plaintiff conceded that that co-worker had frequent confrontations with male employees. The court appeared to agree with defendant’s characterization of this person as “an equal opportunity unpleasant coworker.”

As to conduct by the other defendant whom plaintiff alleged created a hostile work environment – including making derogatory/misogynistic comments about women – the court noted that “none of this language was directed at her, but rather at other individuals, and she just happened to be present to overhear it.”