Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claims Dismissed Against Sparks Steakhouse

In Ramirez v. Michael Cetta Inc. d/b/a Sparks Steak House LLC, 2020 WL 5819551 (SDNY Sept. 30, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s sex/gender-based hostile work environment (sexual harassment) claims.

Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the discriminatory conduct included “(1) her coworkers calling her a bitch on a single occasion; (2) her coworker calling her a slut once; (3) a coworker offering her better food to date his brother; (4) and the same coworker cursing at her during a facially gender-neutral dispute.” The court held that these allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to support her hostile work environment claim, since it was neither “severe” nor “pervasive.”

Turning to plaintiff’s additional allegations relating to Sparks’ locker room (which, according to the court, warranted further examination), the court explained:

Plaintiff asserts three possible bases upon which the locker arrangement could support a hostile work environment claim: (1) because Sparks did not have a separate “female locker room” until 2018, Plaintiff was forced to change in front of her male colleagues for several years; (2) Plaintiff was forced to view her male colleagues changing because, until 2018, there were not separate locker areas for men and women; and (3) Sparks treated its male employees more favorably by not providing Plaintiff with her own private space before 2018 and because the “female locker room” provided after 2018 was inferior to the accommodations provided to her male coworkers. See id. Of these, only the claims to have witnessed her male coworkers changing has any merit; because, however, the arrangement did not subject Plaintiff to an environment rife with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insult, and because it was not motivated in any part by Plaintiff’s gender, Plaintiff’s locker-related allegations are also insufficient, even in conjunction with her assertions of one-off spats with coworkers, to support Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims.

The court further highlighted the contradiction between plaintiff’s assertion that she was forced to change in the men’s locker room and in view of her male colleagues, with her testimony that she was always able to change in a private area away from her male colleagues.

Plaintiff also failed to demonstrate disparate treatment; defendants’ locker arrangement “was not targeted at members of either gender; it failed to distinguish between genders and assigned all employees to the same locker area.” The fact “[t]hat Plaintiff resorted to finding private spaces in which to change as a result of this arrangement is similarly insufficient to establish a hostile work environment,” held the court.

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