Age, Gender-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed Against NYC Human Resources Administration

In Harris v. NYC Human Resources Administration et al, 20-cv-2011, 2021 WL 3855239 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 27, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s gender- and age-based hostile work environment claims under, respectively, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

As to plaintiff’s gender-based claim, the court explained:

The Second Amended Complaint does not allege “severe or pervasive” conduct based on Harris’s sex. Davis-Garett, 921 F.3d at 41. Harris points to Robinson-Steele’s accusation that she did not wear a bra to work one day in 2017, SAC ¶ 16, and another employee’s use of offensive language, including calling her “a man with two balls,” id. ¶ 15 (internal quotation marks omitted). “[S]imple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious)” do not amount to violations of Title VII because such conduct does not cause “changes in the ‘terms and conditions of employment.’ ” Clark Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 271 (2001) (quoting Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998)). Such offhand comments and isolated incidents are precisely what Harris alleges here. Courts around the country routinely have held that evidence of more frequent harassment was insufficient as a matter of law to “alter the terms and conditions of employment” such that it constituted a hostile work environment. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 379 (2d Cir. 2002) (collecting cases). The Court therefore dismisses Harris’s hostile work environment claim under Title VII.

Turning to plaintiff’s age-based claim, the court explained:

Nor does the Second Amended Complaint allege “severe or pervasive” conduct that created a hostile environment because of Harris’s age. Davis-Garett, 921 F.3d at 41. The Second Amended Complaint alleges that Robinson-Steele “pester[ed]” Harris about “when [she] planned to retire,” SAC ¶ 23, and “told [Harris] on many occasions that the HRA was too top-heavy with Supervisors, implying that [she] should retire,” id. ¶ 25. Harris also alleges that Defendants subjected her to poor working conditions in an effort to force her to retire. Id. ¶¶ 24, 26. For example, Harris says Defendants located her workspace in a poorly air-conditioned area of the office (but concedes that she was transferred to a “better ventilated area” once she asked to move). Id. ¶ 26. She also contends that Robinson-Steele gave her “baseless warnings,” id., and that Defendants “tried to force [her] to retire” by “overwhelming [her] with an oppressive workload” while simultaneously giving younger workers “more challenging and impactful assignments,” id. ¶ 24. Even assuming that an inference of discrimination exists with regard to these allegations, they do not establish “the kind of severity and pervasiveness that can amount to an actionable hostile work environment claim.” Alexander v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., No. 19 Civ. 7023 (AJN), 2020 WL 7027509, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2020). Courts in this District have found similar allegations to fall far short of altering the conditions of employment and thus did not constitute a hostile work environment. Antrobus v. New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., No. 19 Civ. 7449 (KPF), 2021 WL 964438, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2021) (rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that her hostile work environment claim was plausible because “younger colleagues were given choice assignments” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Alexander, 2020 WL 7027509, at *8 (rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that “an excessive workload compared to other teachers” constituted a hostile work environment under the ADEA); Trachtenberg v. Dep’t of Educ. of City of New York, 937 F. Supp. 2d 460, 472-73 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that “excessive scrutiny” and a move to a “poorly ventilated, windowless office” plausibly pleaded a hostile work environment). Accordingly, the Court dismisses Harris’s hostile work environment claim pursuant to the ADEA.

The court did, however, grant plaintiff leave to file a (third) amended complaint.

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