Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Properly Dismissed; “Stink” Comment Insufficient

In Campbell v. Bottling Group, LLC, 2020 WL 2563100 (2d Cir. May 21, 2020) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit, inter alia, affirmed the district court’s dismissal (summary judgment) on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

The court summarized the well-established black-letter law relating to hostile work environment claims:

To establish a claim for hostile work environment, a plaintiff must show discriminatory conduct that was “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. A plaintiff must show either “a single incident [that] was extraordinarily severe” or “a series of incidents [that] were sufficiently continuous and concerted to have altered the conditions of [his] working environment.” [Citations omitted.]

Applying the law, the court explained:

Viewing the record in Campbell’s favor, we agree with the District Court that the incidents to which Campbell points do not rise to the level of being severe or pervasive. For example, Campbell offered evidence that his former supervisor, Robert Flaherty, told him “that there was a ‘stink’ on him … due to [his] performance issues.” Even if we assume that the statement had racial overtones, this single remark falls below the “extraordinarily severe” standard for a hostile work environment claim based on a single incident. Moreover, Campbell’s conclusory and generalized allegations of harassment and criticism of his job performance do not establish a nexus to a protected ground.

The court also declined to consider plaintiff’s contention that he was called a “kid” – which plaintiff analogized to being called “boy” – reasoning that while that analogy was “not without basis”, plaintiff raised it for the first time on appeal.

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