Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed Against Mt. Sinai

In Wiggins v. Mount Sinai Hospitals Group, Inc. et al, No. 151209/2016, 2020 WL 7646949 (N.Y. Sup Ct, N.Y. Cty. Dec. 22, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race- and gender-based hostile work environment claims asserted under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

As to the state law claim, the court summarized the relevant law:

Under the NYSHRL, a hostile work environment exists where the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” … Generally, isolated remarks or occasional episodes of harassment will not support a finding of a hostile or abusive work environment; in order to be actionable, the offensive conduct must be pervasive. [Citation omitted.]

Applying the law, the court explained:

[T]here is no support in the record that [defendant G___] “in front of other doctors, employees and patients, pointed his finger at Plaintiff and exclaimed: ‘that is your problem-him right there-He is your problem!’ ” However, even if this did occur, [defendant G___]’s isolated remark cannot support a viable claim for hostile work environment under the NYSHRL. …

According to plaintiff, even after the security video exonerated him, [defendant F___] interrogated him about the theft. Figueroa allegedly then told others that plaintiff was responsible for the theft since he left [P___]’s door open, “the clear implication that he had intentionally left the door open in order to aid and abet the theft of the laptop by the unknown African-American suspect.” Plaintiff claimed to continue to hear rumors that he left the door open on purpose, so that the suspect could steal the computer. Nonetheless, these allegations do not raise a triable issue of fact that defendants subjected him to an environment “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” in violation of the NYSHRL. …

Plaintiff also claims, in opposition to defendants’ motion, that [defendant F___]’s alleged comment about plaintiff being the only male administrative assistant in the department made him feel degraded and belittled. Even assuming, arguendo, that [defendant F___] made that comment, while plaintiff may have been exposed to a “mere offensive utterance,” a reasonable person cannot find that plaintiff was subject to a hostile work environment based upon it. … Considering the totality of the circumstances, even in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff fails to raise a triable issue of fact with respect to his NYSHRL hostile work environment claim.

[Citations omitted.]

The court next turned to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the comparatively broader New York City Human Rights Law.

It summarized the law as follows:

A hostile work environment exists in violation of the NYCHRL where an employee “has been treated less well than other employees because of [his] protected status.” Chin v New York City Hous. Auth., 106 AD3d 443, 445 (1st Dept 2013). Under the NYCHRL, “the conduct’s severity and pervasiveness are relevant only to the issue of damages. To prevail on liability, the plaintiff need only show differential treatment – that [he] is treated ‘less well’ — because of a discriminatory intent.” Mihalik v Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F3d 102, 110 (2d Cir 2013) (internal citation omitted). To establish a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL, “the primary issue for a trier of fact in harassment cases, as in other terms and conditions cases, is whether the plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that [he] has been treated less well than other employees because of [his protected status].” Williams v New York City Hous. Auth., 61 AD3d 62, 78 (1st Dept 2009). Despite the broader application of the NYCHRL, conduct that consists of “petty slights or trivial inconveniences . . . do[es] not suffice to support a hostile work environment claim.” Buchwald v Silverman Shin & Byrne PLLC, 149 AD3d 560, 560 (1st Dept 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Applying the law, the court concluded that – even under the comparatively-broader city law – “there was no indication, beyond plaintiff’s personal belief, that [defendants’] comments or actions were directed towards plaintiff as a result of his race, or that employees in the office suspected plaintiff due to his race” and that “any gender-biased comments allegedly made … do not rise to the level of an actionable hostile work environment as they ‘could only be reasonably interpreted by a trier of fact as representing no more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences.’”

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