Hostile Work Environment Claim Under City Law, But Not Federal and State Law, Survives Dismissal

In Alexander v. NYC Dept. of Education, 2020 WL 7027509 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2020), the court dismissed plaintiff’s federal and state aw hostile work environment claims, but denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the New York City Human Rights Law.

This decision, as such, illustrates the comparative breadth of the City Law relative to its federal and state counterparts.

The court wrote:

Even drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, the allegations contained in the amended complaint fail to state a plausible hostile work environment claim, falling short of the kinds of conduct that courts have found to be sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment. See Trachtenberg, 937 F. Supp. 2d at 473 (collecting cases). The allegations in the amended complaint include her having been removed from the Emerging Leaders Program while another teacher was allowed to remain in it, FAC ¶¶ 23–25, duties and responsibilities that were previously hers being reassigned, id. ¶¶ 26–28, her student handbook being distributed to the school and Macklin, along with another teacher, “publish[ing] it as their own, making no changes except to rearrange some of the sections,” id. ¶ 29–30, her having been given an excessive workload compared to other teachers’, id. 31–32, and the disciplinary charges that were brought against her but not against other teachers who were also involved, id. ¶¶ 33–41. But even assuming that an inference of discrimination exists as to these allegations, they would fail to establish the kind of severity and pervasiveness that can amount to an actionable hostile work environment claim. See, e.g., Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 321 (2d Cir. 2015) (rejecting allegations that employer made negative statements about plaintiff, was impatient and used harsh tones with plaintiff, distanced herself from plaintiff, required plaintiff to recreate work, wrongfully reprimanded plaintiff, increased plaintiff’s schedule, and was sarcastic to plaintiff as sufficient to state a plausible hostile work environment claim); Fleming v. MaxMara USA, Inc., 371 F. Appx. 115, 119 (2d Cir. 2010) (noting that no hostile work environment existed even where “defendants wrongly excluded [the plaintiff] from meetings, excessively criticized her work, refused to answer work-related questions, arbitrarily imposed duties outside of her responsibilities, threw books, and sent rude emails to her.”); see also Lenart v. Coach Inc., 131 F. Supp. 3d 61, 67 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (finding that allegations regarding others’ favorable treatment on the basis of gender did not assert a plausible hostile work environment claim). Assessing these allegations cumulatively and drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, the Court nonetheless concludes that the amended complaint does not plead allege the sort of conditions or work environment that could plausibly be deemed “sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of [Plaintiff’s] employment.” Trachtenberg, 937 F. Supp. 2d at 473. Accordingly, her hostile work environment claims under the ADEA, the NYSHRL, and § 1983 fail.

The different standard for hostile work environment claims under the NYCHRL, however, requires a different result for Plaintiff’s NYCHRL claim. The Second Circuit has explained that “he NYCHRL does not require either materially adverse employment actions or severe and pervasive conduct.” Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 114 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). And it has noted that “a focus on unequal treatment based on [a protected category]—regardless of whether the conduct is ‘tangible’ (like hiring or firing) or not—is in fact the approach that is most faithful to the uniquely broad and remedial purposes of the local statute.” Id. (citation omitted). Thus, a plausible NYCHRL hostile work environment claim need not allege severe or pervasive conduct. Plaintiff’s allegations satisfy this more permissive threshold.

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