Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Under NY City, But Not Federal and NY State, Law

In Gurley v. David H. Berg & Associates d/b/a Berg & Androphy et al, 20 Civ. 9998, 2022 WL 309442 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim for a race-based hostile work environment under the New York City Human Rights Law.

This case illustrates the difference between claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law, on the one hand, and under the far broader (i.e., more plaintiff-friendly) NYCHRL, on the other.

The court held, for example, that plaintiff’s “negative performance evaluations, the comments about her lotion and hair, and the scrutiny she received regarding her appearance and timeliness, among her other allegations, while upsetting, do not rise to the level of permeation with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” [cleaned up] and therefore granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the NYSHRL.

Turning to the NYCHRL, the court explained:

The standard to prevail on a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL is lower than the state and federal counterparts. Bermudez v. City of New York, 783 F. Supp. 2d 560, 579 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). One must show only “unequal treatment based upon membership in a protected class.” Nieblas-Love v. New York City Hous. Auth., 165 F. Supp. 3d 51, 68 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (citation omitted). In other words, a plaintiff must show that she was “treated ‘less well’ because of discriminatory intent.” Colon v. Fashion Inst. of Tech. (State Univ. of New York), 983 F. Supp. 2d 277, 292 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N.Am., Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 110 (2d Cir. 2013)). In evaluating a hostile work environment claim, the court must again look at the “totality of the circumstances.” Mihalik., 715 F.3d at 111. However, “petty, slight, or trivial inconveniences are not actionable.” Bermudez, 783 F. Supp. 2d at 579 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

While Gurley has not sufficiently plead the severe or pervasive conduct required to state a claim for hostile work environment under the federal and state statutes, at this stage she has stated claims to satisfy the more lenient pleading standards for a NYCHRL claim. Specifically, she has alleged that she was paid less than other non-Black employees and that she was treated worse than Lee, a similarly situated Asian employee, in terms of how various policies were enforced against her. “Such allegations are sufficient to state a claim, particularly after Littlejohn.” Lenart v. Coach Inc., 131 F. Supp. 3d 61, 69 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (denying motion to dismiss a NYCHRL hostile work environment claim after dismissing the Title VII and NYSHRL claims); see also Syeed v. Bloomberg L.P., No. 20 Civ. 7464 (GHW), 2021 WL 4952486, at *18 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 25, 2021) (denying motion to dismiss because of allegations that plaintiff was paid less than comparators for similar work and was denied resources that were provided to colleagues). [Cleaned up.]

Based on this, the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

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