Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed Against United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund

In Howell v. United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund, No. 153234/2017, 2020 WL 2933631, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 31713(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County June 03, 2020), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

As to the New York State Human Rights Law claim, the court explained:

Under the NYSHRL, a hostile work environment exists where the workplace is “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” La Marca-Pagano v Dr. Steven Phillips, P.C., 129 AD3d 918, 919 (2d Dept 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Isolated remarks or occasional episodes of harassment generally will not support a finding of a hostile or abusive work environment since, in order to be actionable, the offensive conduct must be pervasive. Matter of Father Belle Community Ctr. v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 221 AD2d 44, 51 (4th Dept 1996).

*8 Plaintiff fails to provide any factual allegations to demonstrate that defendants subjected her to an environment “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” in violation of the NYSHRL. La Marca-Pagano v Dr. Steven Phillips, P.C., 129 AD3d at 919 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Although she claims that “[s]eeing new and less experienced Caucasian employees taking the positions” to which she could have been promoted “created a hostile work **19 environment”, she tellingly fails to specify the positions to which she refers. Doc. 28 at 28. Thus, she fails to contradict Pepper’s representation that there were only two positions to which she could have been promoted, and that one was filled by an African-American woman.

Plaintiff’s conclusory hostile work environment claims also fail because Pepper’s comments about Serena Williams and his reference to three young Caucasian employees as the “future of the Fund” amount to “no more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences.”

The court also granted defendants’ motion under the comparatively broader New York City Human Rights Law:

The NYCHRL is less stringent in its requirements, requiring only that a plaintiff demonstrate that she was treated “less well” than other employees, but that she experienced more than “petty slights and grievances”. Williams v. New York City Hous. Auth., 61 AD3d at 79. Under the NYCHRL, it is the employer that carries the burden of proving the conduct’s triviality. See Mihalki v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F3d 102, 111 (2nd Cir. 2013). Defendants’ have established prima facie that they did not treat plaintiff “less well” than other employees. Although plaintiff claims that a hostile work environment arose from Pepper’s comments regarding Serena Williams, comments about three white employees he referred to as “the future of the Fund”, and walking past her desk multiple times in one day, these amount to nothing more than petty slights of trivial inconveniences. See Buchwald v Silverman Shin & Byrne PLLC, 149 AD3d 560 (1st Dept 2017). Although plaintiff also claims that Pepper warned that he would monitor her telephone calls, she does not represent whether this happened to others as well and, thus, this Court cannot discern whether this resulted in plaintiff being treated “less well” than others.

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