Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Sufficiently Alleged Against Target

In Avent v. Target Corporation et al, 19-1565, 2021 WL 3089120 (NDNY July 22, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

The court explained:

[T]he Court found that Plaintiff sufficiently stated a hostile work environment claim against Defendants Target, Fetcho, and Doe, based on his allegations that they failed to take action to prevent wrongful acts against Plaintiff, a black employee, despite his formal and informal complaints that his lunch was routinely stolen by white employees and that when he began keeping his lunch in his car, other employees targeted his car by scratching and denting it. (Dkt. No. 5, p. 20). Although Defendant argues that this alleged treatment does not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment, (Dkt. No. 28-1, p. 17), the Second Circuit has cautioned against “setting the bar too high” at the motion to dismiss stage. Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 148 (2d Cir. 2003). “While a mild, isolated incident does not make a work environment hostile, the test is whether the harassment is of such quality or quantity that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse.” Id. (internal citation omitted). Thus, the Court declines to revisit the finding that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment based on race. See also Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 114 (2d Cir. 2007) (explaining that “whether a particular work environment is objectively hostile is necessarily a fact-intensive inquiry”).

As to individual liability, the court held that individual defendants were subject to liability since plaintiff demonstrated their “personal involvement” in a hostile work environment, by alleging that they “failed to address harassment directed at him by white employees.”

The court did, however, clarify that plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim against the individual defendants can only be maintained pursuant to § 1981 since these was no indication that they were “state actors” as opposed to employees a private company, such that plaintiff’s § 1983 claim against them must be dismissed.

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