Hostile Work Environment Insufficiently Alleged; Negative Conduct

In Kalia v. City University of New York, 2020 WL 6875173 (SDNY Nov. 23, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race- and national origin-based hostile work environment claim(s).

The court provides the following (well-established) overview of the “black letter law” in this area:

[F]or Kalia’s Title VII hostile work environment claim to survive, he must allege that (1) his workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the work environment; and (2) a specific basis exists for imputing the conduct that created the hostile environment to CUNY. See, e.g., Petrosino v. Bell Atl., 385 F.3d 210, 214 (2d Cir. 2004). It is well established that “[i]solated incidents usually will not suffice to establish a hostile work environment,” Redd v. N.Y. Div. of Parole, 678 F.3d 166, 175-76 (2d Cir. 2012), and that “[t]he incidents of allegedly offensive conduct must also be ‘more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive,’ ” Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 75 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Perry v. Ethan Allen, Inc., 115 F.3d 143, 149 (2d Cir.1997)). Hostile work environment claims are evaluated by looking at all of the circumstances, which may include the “frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993). Further, “a plaintiff alleging a hostile work environment claim must also establish that ‘the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offense connotations, but actually constituted discrimination because of’ ” race or another protected category.

Turning to the merits, and applying the law to the facts, the court noted a fact that, unfortunately, is fatal to discrimination claims in general and hostile work environment claims in particular, namely, the lack of any connection of the alleged “hostile” or negative acts to the plaintiff’s membership in one or more protected categories.

The court wrote:

Applying these standards here, the Court concludes that Kalia’s allegations do not clear the plausibility bar. Kalia claims that he was “strip[ed] of [his] duties”; precluded from teaching graduate courses and sitting on committees; given “an office virtually on top of one of his antagonists”; and “subjected to routine denigration and spiteful looks.” FAC ¶ 191. Kalia also claims that the denial of his salary supplement, the delay in processing his distinguished professorship bid, and other instances of “harassment and treatment faced by other minorities” contributed to a hostile work environment. Id.; Pl.’s Opp’n 17. But conclusory assertions aside, Kalia does not plausibly allege that any of this treatment was due to his race or national origin. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 377 (2d Cir. 2002) (“Everyone can be characterized by sex, ethnicity, or (real or perceived) disability; and many bosses are harsh, unjust, and rude. It is therefore important in hostile work environment cases to exclude from consideration personnel decisions that lack a linkage or correlation to the claimed ground of discrimination.”); Pouncy v. Advanced Focus LLC, No. 15-CV-6260 (JMF), 2017 WL 4280949, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2017), aff’d, 763 F. App’x 134 (2d Cir. 2019) (summary order) (dismissing hostile work environment claims for similarly failing to establish a connection between the plaintiff’s protected characteristics and purported hostile actions against him). Kalia’s subjective beliefs to the contrary are “insufficient to satisfy his burden at the pleading stage.” Lenart v. Coach, Inc., 131 F. Supp. 3d 61, 68 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nor do Kalia’s allegations, taken together, show that Defendants’ conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. Davis-Molinia v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., No. 08-CV-7584 (GBD), 2011 WL 4000997, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 19, 2011) (finding that “diminished [job] responsibilities,” “exclu[sion] from staff meetings,” deliberate “avoid[ance],” “yell[ing] and talk[ing] down to,” and an increased workload of menial tasks, among other factors, was not enough to show that the defendants’ conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive), aff’d, 488 F. App’x 530 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order).

Based on this, the court concluded that plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim must be dismissed.

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