“Monkey” Reference Did Not Rise to Level of a Hostile Work Environment; Claim Dismissed

In Clarke v. New York City Department of Education, 18-cv-6783, 2021 WL 123358 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

After reviewing the black-letter law concerning this claim, the court explained:

The plaintiff claims that the defendants “picked on [her] and other veteran teachers” while allowing “younger [w]hite teachers” to do the same things “without any consequences.” (ECF No. 31 ¶ 155.) The plaintiff does not explain how the defendants “picked on” her, or specify what the defendants permitted other teachers to do “without any consequences.” To the extent that the plaintiff contends that she and other senior teachers received increased scrutiny because of their age (id. ¶ 54), “excessive criticism is generally insufficient to support a claim of pervasive or severe hostile work environment.” Mohan v. City of New York, No. 17-CV-3820, 2018 WL 3711821, at *14 (E.D.N.Y. 2018) (citations omitted).

The plaintiff cites only one instance of a defendant allegedly raising the subject of race: a meeting at which Ms. Mazzarelli discussed a paper entitled “The Story of the Five Monkeys: that’s the way it has always been done.” (ECF No. 31 ¶ 99.) The term “monkey” can be a “demeaning and offensive slur,” Green v. Jacob & Co. Watches, Inc., 248 F. Supp. 3d 458, 470 (S.D.N.Y. 2017), and the plaintiff argues that its use here was racist “[g]iven the historic association of monkeys and African Americans by the dominant American society.” (ECF No. 31 ¶ 101.) Even if these comments were discriminatory, a hostile work environment requires “more than a few isolated incidents of [discriminatory] enmity.” Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

The court concluded that the plaintiff here “alleges sporadic interactions, none of which are severe enough, singly or taken together, to constitute a hostile work environment.”

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