Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Sufficiently Alleged Against Leg Apparel et al

In Sanderson v. Leg Apparel et al, 2020 WL 3100256 (SDNY June 11, 2020), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged race-based hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. (I addressed the court’s assessment of plaintiff’s “adverse employment action” disparate treatment claim here.)

The court summarized the law:

To state a claim for a hostile work environment under federal law, a plaintiff must plead facts that would tend to show that the complained of conduct: (1) is objectively severe or pervasive—that is, creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment ‘that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive’; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s [protected characteristic]. Whether the challenged conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive depends on the totality of the circumstances. The Supreme Court in [Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993)] established a non-exclusive list of factors’ to consider in this regard: (1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with plaintiff’s work; and (5) what psychological harm, if any, resulted. Ultimately, to avoid dismissal under FRCP 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need only plead facts sufficient to support the conclusion that she was faced with harassment of such quality or quantity that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse, and [the Second Circuit has] repeatedly cautioned against setting the bar too high in this context. [Paragraphing altered; internal quotation marks and citations omitted.]

Applying the law, the court htld that plaintiff adequately alleged that he was subjected to objectively severe or pervasive conduct:

Most importantly, Sanderson has alleged that he was assigned a disproportionate workload because of his race. “[A]llegations of a heavier workload alone can[ ] support a viable hostile work environment claim” if the “plaintiff was subjected to ‘disproportionately burdensome work assignments.’ ” Wilson v. Family Dollar Stores of New York, Inc., No. CIV A CV-06-639 (DGT), 2008 WL 4426957, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2008) (quoting Garone v. UPS, 436 F. Supp. 2d 448, 467 (E.D.N.Y. 2006)), aff’d, 374 F. App’x 156 (2d Cir. 2010); see also Raniola v. Bratton, 243 F.3d 610, 621 (2d Cir. 2001). A reasonable employee could find that the assignment of a disproportionate workload altered her employment conditions “for the worse.” Patane, 508 F.3d at 113.

In addition to this, plaintiff also alleged that his white colleagues made four racially insensitive remarks, that his white colleagues received praise for their work and Sanderson did not, and that his white colleagues talked loudly while he was on the phone with clients but did not do so when white employees were on the phone.

The court held that while “[s]tanding alone, these allegations might fail to plead that a plaintiff was subjected to an objectively hostile work environment” but that “together with the allegations that he was assigned a disproportionately heavy workload, Sanderson has pleaded that he faced an objectively hostile work environment.”

Finally, the court determined that plaintiff plausibly alleged that he subjectively perceived his environment as hostile, noting that plaintiff’s amended complaint “teems with allegations that his colleagues’ racially insensitive actions distressed him emotionally.”

Based on this, the court concluded that plaintiff plausibly alleged a race-based hostile work environment claim.

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