Disability-Based “Ridicule” at Meeting Sufficient to State Discrimination Under NY City, but Not Federal and NY State, Law

In Modica v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Education et al, 20-CV-4834, 2021 WL 3408587 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2021), the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a disability-based hostile work environment claim under the New York City Human Rights Law. The court reached this conclusion after determining that plaintiff did not sufficiently allege claims under federal law (the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act) or under the New York State Human Rights Law.

As such, this decision illustrates, yet again, the differences between federal and state law, on the one hand, and the broader and more-plaintiff-friendly city law.

From the decision:

By contrast, the Court concludes that Modica’s hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL cannot be dismissed. The burden to state a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL is less demanding, requiring only an allegation that the plaintiff “was treated less well than other employees because of [her] membership in a protected class.” Wilson, 2021 WL 918770, at *4 (internal quotation marks omitted). Significantly, in contrast to the law governing NYSHRL and federal claims, severe or pervasive hostility is not required, and “even a single comment may be actionable in the proper context.” Mihalik, 715 F.3d at 113. Thus, a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL “should only be dismissed if plaintiff alleges nothing more than a petty slight or trivial inconvenience.” Dietrich v. City of New York, No. 18-CV-7544 (CM), 2020 WL 4226591, at *16 (S.D.N.Y. July 23, 2020) (internal quotation marks omitted). In light of these standards, Modica’s allegation that Christie “ridiculed” her at the December 18, 2018, mediation meeting on the basis of her disability, Am. Compl. ¶ 6, is enough to plead a plausible NYCHRL hostile work environment claim, see Sanderson v. Leg Apparel LLC, No. 19-CV-8423 (GHW), 2020 WL 7342742, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2020) (holding that allegations about a supervisor making three comments about plaintiff’s perceived sexual orientation to “embarrass” him and “diminish [his] success” were enough to state a NYCHRL hostile work environment claim); Shukla v. Deloitte Consulting LLP, No. 19-CV-10578 (AJN) (SDA), 2020 WL 3181785, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2020) (holding that a single comment that the plaintiff was an “expendable Indian” at a time when he was being removed from a project was sufficient to state a claim that he was treated less well as a result of his race or national origin).

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