Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed Against General Motors

In Banks v. General Motors, LLC, 2020 WL 6827707 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race- and gender-based hostile work environment claims.

“Plaintiff seeking to establish a Title VII hostile work environment claim must show that ‘the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the condition of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” Banks, 2020 WL 6827707, at *15.

Applying the law, the court explained:

Plaintiff here has alleged intimidation, ridicule, and insult (both to her and to other African American or female employees) in the graffiti, silhouettes, Confederate flags displayed in the Lockport plant, harassment, and the comments and epithets she heard and those heard by other African American or female employees. The issue is whether these incidents collectively are sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of Plaintiff’s employment. She alleges that they created sufficient distress that caused her to go on multiple medical leaves, leading to the loss of her position when she tried to return from the 2013 leave.

While other employees endured a steady barrage of racial insult and epithet, Plaintiff herself did not; she points to one time barred incident and incidents within the limitations period of using derogatory, but non-ethnic offending terms (calling her an idiot or refusing to provide her with needed data, depriving her of support staff, or giving her subordinate’s work to perform in addition to her own duties). She also pointed to instances when she was ignored or faced disrespect from coworkers or subordinates. She complains of about four sexually disparaging comments addressed to her but which she failed to complain about to Defendant’s management.

Looking at the totality of the circumstances—including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether there was any physical threats or humiliation, whether her work performance was unreasonably interfered with, Harris, supra, 510 U.S. at 23—Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case for a hostile work environment. She does not claim that she was ever threatened. In some of the incidents, her work was impeded and interfered with (such as denied data or performing staff work assigned to others) but there she suffered no adverse consequences alleged for this interference save her stress claim. Plaintiff does not claim she was denied advancement or unreasonable delay in her projects from this conduct. While there are numerous instances cited by Plaintiff over a five-year span (from 2010 until filing EEOC Charges in 2014), they remain episodic, without events being connected by a common actor or repeated incident. While frequent, the incidents alleged are not severe, especially the incidents that occurred to Plaintiff directly.

The court concluded that “[a] reasonable person would not find the environment at General Motors’s Lockport plant was hostile or abusive to female or African American employees,” where “Plaintiff only presents isolated incidents, not extremely serious either taken singly or collectively.”

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