Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Objectionable Vignettes” Insufficient to State Claim for Relief

In Reyes v. Westchester County Health Care Corporation, d/b/a Westchester Medical Center et al, 2021 WL 4944285 (2d Cir. Oct. 25, 2021), the court, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

While the court held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s claims asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the election-of-remedies doctrine – noting that plaintiff’s claims here either were not asserted at the New York State Division of Human Rights or were based on conduct post-dating her NYSDHR complaint – it nevertheless found that plaintiff’s claims failed on the merits.

From the decision:

Reyes’s allegation of a hostile work environment fails. A plaintiff making such a claim must “plead facts that would tend to show that the complained of conduct: (1) is objectively severe or pervasive—that is, creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s” protected characteristic. Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2007) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). In determining whether a work environment is hostile, we consider the totality of the circumstances, which includes: “(1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether it is threatening and humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). As the district court concluded in reviewing the hostile work environment claim under Title VII, Reyes alleges “a collection of vignettes that she found objectionable.” App’x 118. “Simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.” Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 75 (2d Cir. 2001) (alteration omitted) (quoting Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998)). The “vignettes” Reyes provides are insufficient to state a claim for a hostile work environment.

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