Mocking of Accent, While Evidence of “Insult or Ridicule”, Insufficient to Support Hostile Work Environment Claim

In Zheng-Smith v. Nassau Health Care Corporation, 2021 WL 4097316 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2021), the court, inter alia, affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s race and national origin based hostile work environment claim.

The court summarized the applicable black-letter law as follows:

Hostile work environment claims under both Title VII and the NYSHRL are governed by the same standard. To prove a hostile work environment claim a plaintiff must establish that the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. [M]istreatment at work is actionable under Title VII only when it occurs because of an employee’s protected characteristic  — here, race or national origin. In considering whether a plaintiff has met this burden, courts should examine the totality of the circumstances, including: the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with the victim’s job performance. [Citations, internal quotation marks, and internal ellipses omitted.]

Next, applying the law, the court explained:

The only alleged mistreatment with a nexus to Zheng-Smith’s race or national origin concerns Riggs’s treatment of her accent. Riggs’s conduct provides some evidence of ridicule and insult based on national origin. But Zheng-Smith failed to demonstrate in her affidavit or deposition that his conduct was “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to amount to a hostile work environment. Legg, 979 F.3d at 114 (quotation marks omitted). “Isolated incidents generally will not suffice to establish a hostile work environment unless they are extraordinarily severe.” Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 547 (2d Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the District Court correctly granted summary judgment to Defendants on her hostile work environment claim.

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