Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed; Abusive Conduct Was Not Connected to Gender or Race

In Walker v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnell Authority et al, 2021 WL 5401483 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 18, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claims of race and gender discrimination.

This case nicely illustrates a fundamental premise of anti-discrimination law, namely:

Discrimination has no place in the workplace. Anti-discrimination laws protect employees when they are subjected to disparate treatment, a hostile environment or retaliation at work on the basis of their protected characteristics. But to avail herself of the protection of federal anti-discrimination laws, a plaintiff must plausibly allege that she suffered discrimination because of her protected characteristic(s). Mere recitations of a plaintiff’s membership in a protected class and a litany of incidents of poor treatment, without factual connections between the two, do not pass muster.

The court summarized the relevant law as follows:

To state a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must plausibly allege that “the complained 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 characteristics].” Robinson v. Harvard Prot. Servs., 495 F. App’x 140, 141 (2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

Section 1983 and Title VII cases are analyzed under the same burden-shifting McDonnell Douglass framework. Naumovski, 934 F.3d at 221 (“[F]or claims arising under [Title VII and Section 1983], the level of severity to demonstrate a hostile work environment is similar.”)

To state a claim under Title VII for a hostile work environment, Plaintiff must allege facts from which the Court can plausibly infer that discrimination is a motivating factor in the mistreatment. See Berrie v. Bd. of Educ. of Port Chester-Rye Union Free Sch. Dist., 750 F. App’x 41, 47 (2d Cir. 2018) (“This mistreatment [in hostile work environment claims] must have occurred because of [the] employee’s protected characteristic, such as race or national origin, although the protected characteristic need not be ‘the only motivating factor.’ ”). But-for causation is required for Section 1983 hostile work environment claims. Naumovski, 934 F.3d at 214 (“[C]ourts must account for a § 1983 plaintiff’s higher burden of producing evidence from which a jury could infer that the individual’s discriminatory intent was a ‘but-for’ cause of the adverse employment action.”).

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff “has not plausibly alleged that gender or racial animus was a motivating factor behind Defendants’ alleged actions” and, therefore, “although Plaintiff has more than adequately alleged a hostile and abusive work environment, both subjectively and objectively, she failed entirely to allege facts from which the Court can reasonably infer that her race or gender was a motivating factor (let alone the-but for cause) for the mistreatment.”

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