Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Court Cautions Against “Repurposing” Discrete Acts Supporting Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

In Erazo-Vazquez v. State Industrial Products Corp., 16-2709, 2021 WL 3910248 (D.Puerto Rico Aug. 31, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s age-based hostile work environment claim.

Initially, the court cautioned against “blurring” the distinction between hostile work environment claims, on the one hand, and discrimination and retaliation claims, on the other:

Plaintiff’s allegations closely track his discrimination and retaliation claims. In this setting, courts have observed that allowing standard discrimination or retaliation claims “to be converted into a contemporaneous hostile work environment claim runs the risk of significantly blurring the distinction between the elements that underpin each cause of action and the kinds of harm each was designed to address.” LaBrecque v. Mabus, 2017 WL 650060, *32 (D. Me. Feb. 16, 2017). Discrete acts constituting discrimination or retaliation claims are different in kind from a hostile work environment claim that must be based on severe or pervasive discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult. See, Lester v. Natsios, 209 F.Supp.2d 11, 33 (D.C.C. 2003)(discussing topic). If the same set of facts could support discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment claims, federal and state provisions that provide a separate cause of action for each of them “would be rendered superfluous.” Gardner v. Tripp County, S.D., 66 F.Supp.2d 1094, 1100-1101 (D. S. D. 1998). Plaintiff cannot simply re-purpose the same discrete acts he claims are discriminatory or retaliatory “to assert a broader hostile environment cause of action.” Williams v. Spencer, 883 F.Supp.2d 165, 180 (D.D.C. 2012)).38 For this reason, the court focuses on whether, “in the aggregate,” the discrete acts amount to a hostile work environment. Bhatti v. Trustees of Boston University, 659 F.3d 64, 74 (1st Cir. 2011); LaBrecque, 2017 WL 650060 at *32. And the answer is no.

The next nail in the coffin of plaintiff’s claim was that the alleged employment actions were “reasonably linked to legitimate business objectives, not to instances of discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult.”

Finally, the court dismissed plaintiff’s allegations that he “suffered mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, and loss of the capacity to enjoy life,” as “evidence of subjective offense at best” which “does not demonstrate that the environment was objectively offensive, a critical flaw in the case, as the standard for hostile work environment includes both a subjective component and an objective component.”

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