Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim Dismissed Against Bloomberg LP et al

In Perrotte v. Bloomberg, LP et al, No. 451470/2020, 2021 WL 465986 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Feb. 09, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s “quid pro quo” sexual harassment claim asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

The court summarized the law as follows:

Pursuant to NYSHRL, it is an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to, inter alia, fire or discriminate against an individual in the terms, conditions or privileges of employment because the individual’s sex. (Executive Law § 296[1] [a]). A plaintiff seeking to recover for sexual harassment must proceed by claiming that he or she was subject to, inter alia, quid pro quo sexual harassment. (Meritor Sav. Bank FSB v Vinson, All US 57, 64-65 [1996]; Karibian v Columbia Univ., 14 F3d 773, 777 [2d Cir 1994], cert denied 512 US 1213 [1994]).

The issue in a quid pro quo sexual harassment case brought under the State Human Rights Law is whether one or more employment decisions are linked to unwelcome sexual conduct. Sexual harassment occurs when such unwelcome sexual conduct is the basis, either explicitly or implicitly, for employment decisions affecting compensation or the terms, condition or privileges of employment. (Franco v Hyatt Corp., 189 AD3d 569, 569 [1st Dept 2020]).

Sexual conduct encompasses sexual demands, sexual overtures, sexual harassment, and prohibited conduct. (Messer v Fahnestock & Co., Inc., 2008 WL 4934608, * 14 [ED NY 2008]). Implicit sexual pressures and harassing conduct are also prohibited. (Id.; see Father Belle Cmty. Ctr. v New York State Div. of Human Rights on Complaint of King, 221 AD2d 44, 50 [4th Dept 1996], lv denied, 89 NY3d 809 [1997] [unwelcome sexual conduct includes, among other things, verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature used explicitly or implicitly as basis for employment decision]; see also PJI 9:6 Employment Discrimination – Quid Pro Quo Claims [same]). Moreover, “the absence of a supervisor’s direct pressure for sexual favors as a condition of employment does not negate indirect pressure or necessarily doom the claim.” (Suri v Grey Global Group, Inc., 164 AD3d 108, 115-16 [1st Dept 2018]). To the extent that the Court in Suri affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant of the plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim under the NYSHRL, absent any accompanying discussion of it, it does not constitute authority for the proposition that a direct demand for sexual favors in exchange for a favorable employment decision is required for pleading and proving a quid pro quo claim.

Applying the law, the court explained:

While plaintiff infers a sexual connotation from Preece’s warning to her that she should do “anything” and “everything” in order for him to provide her with positive feedback, the complaint contains no instance of him asking her to do anything sexual or even objectionable, and she repeats the amorphous characterizations in lieu of specifics when she contends that she expressed to him a lack of interest in doing “anything” and “everything.” Preece’s alleged conduct in obtaining, without plaintiff’s knowledge, a vantage from which he could look up her skirt became “unwelcome sexual conduct” relating to plaintiff only when she learned of it after the fact from a third party. And, when plaintiff confronted Preece about that conduct, his response was devoid of sexual connotation, and plaintiff cites no authority for the proposition that his conduct suffices, as a matter of law, to constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Plaintiff’s reliance on media reports, prior lawsuits, and second-hand information provided by other present and former employees concerning LP’s work environment does not buoy her case at this juncture of her action. Nor does she cite authority for the proposition that such sources may be used to support her claim. (See Prince v Cablevision Sys. Corp., 2005 WL 1060373 [SD NY 2005] [rejecting plaintiff’s argument that sexual harassment claim should be analyzed in context of alleged “sexualized atmosphere” at workplace, as plaintiff did not allege that she heard or witnessed single derogatory comment or other sex-based offensive conduct or that she was present for or affected by atmosphere]; see also Alfano v Costello, 294 F3d 365 [2d Cir 2002] [not only must environment be hostile objectively but plaintiff must have perceived it subjectively to have been hostile]). Rather, plaintiff’s allegations in support of her cause of action for quid pro quo sexual harassment are more properly considered in relation to her separate cause of action for a hostile work environment, which is not challenged on this motion.

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