Accent-Based National Origin Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed Against JPMorgan Chase

In Matthew v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 2020 WL 2523064 (EDNY May 18, 2020) (J. Mauskopf), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s national origin-based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

[Plaintiff] Matthew has not alleged any facts supporting an inference that she was terminated because of her race or gender. Indeed, the only allegation in the amended complaint which might even arguably support the inference that Matthew was terminated because of a protected characteristic is the allegation that Wolf “complained that he couldn’t understand anything [Matthew] was saying because of [her] accent.” (Am. Compl. at 9.) According to her Opposition Affidavit, Wolf registered this complaint during “nearly every single conversation” he had with her, and expressed “clear anger and annoyance” about her Trinidadian accent. (Opp. Aff. ¶ 24.)

Even if the Court were to grant Matthew leave to amend her pleading to incorporate the allegations contained in the Opposition Affidavit, these allegations would not be sufficient to establish a prima facie case of national original discrimination. “[T]he Second Circuit has not yet squarely held that hostility based on an individual’s accent is evidence of national origin discrimination.” Several district courts in the Circuit have held that evidence of frequent accent mimicking or mockery can support a claim of national origin discrimination. See id. (pervasive accent mockery by co-workers or supervisors constitutes a hostile work environment); see also Rosas v. Balter Sales Co. Inc., No. 12-CV-6557 (VSB), 2018 WL 3199253, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2018) (frequent mimicking of an accent and repeated use of derogatory words and phrases sufficient to support a hostile work environment claim). However, in an unpublished opinion, the Second Circuit has implied that evidence that a plaintiff’s “coworkers and supervisors asked him to repeat himself because they could not understand him” is insufficient to establish national origin discrimination. Ghose v. Century 21, Inc., 12 Fed. Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir. 2001).

The allegations in the amended complaint and the Opposition Affidavit, taken together, establish only that Wolf frequently complained that he was unable to understand Matthew’s accent. While Matthew alleges that he expressed anger and annoyance, she does not allege that he mimicked or mocked her or that he used derogatory words or phrases during these conversations. Matthew’s allegations alone are insufficient to support the inference that Wolf harbored any animus on account of Matthew’s national origin, much less that he decided to terminate Matthew because of her national origin. Accordingly, Matthew has failed to state a claim for employment discrimination under Title VII.