Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Unpleasant” and “Offensive” Conduct Insufficient

In Taylor v. Haaland, 2022 WL 990682 (D.D.C. March 31, 2022), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

After summarizing the “black letter” law governing such a claim, the court applied it to the facts:

Here, Taylor argues that the Department created a hostile work environment by: (1) monitoring her arrival and departure time and using her coworkers to assist with this monitoring; (2) allowing her coworkers to taunt her; (3) limiting her lunch time to a specific hour; (4) proposing a five-day suspension without pay and later expanding the suspension to fourteen days; (5) offering her an “unconscionable” settlement agreement, which Taylor characterized as an “ultimatum to take or leave it”; (6) suspending her for twelve days; and (7) investigating her employment history. See Compl. ¶¶ 108, 122, 132. This conduct is not “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create a hostile work environment.” See Baloch, 550 F.3d at 1201 (quoting Harris, 510 U.S. at 21).

To begin, many of the above actions are insufficiently “severe” to establish a hostile work environment. Id. Although the offensive comments from Taylor’s coworkers were likely unpleasant, “mere offensive utterance[s]” do not create a hostile work environment. Pauling v. District of Columbia, 286 F. Supp. 3d 179, 210 (D.D.C. 2017) (alteration in original) (quoting Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787–88); see also Nurridden v. Bolden, 674 F. Supp. 2d 64, 94 (D.D.C. 2009) (“Plaintiff’s allegations of disparaging remarks, criticisms of his work, and other negative comments do not sufficiently demonstrate a significant level of offensiveness.”). Nor does the Department’s monitoring of Taylor’s work hours and prescribing her lunch time. The “selective enforcement of a time and attendance policy does not necessarily indicate conduct giving rise to a hostile work environment claim.” Brooks v. Grundmann, 748 F. 3d 1273, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also Coady v. Chao, 2019 WL 4706908, at * 6 (D.D.C. Sept 26, 2019) (“[S]elective imposition of sick leave restrictions, among other things, is insufficient to create a hostile work environment.”). The same is true for the “heightened scrutiny of [Taylor’s] work [and] interference with [that] work by [ ] management personnel.” Tumblin v. Barr, 2020 WL 7078826, at *5 (D.D.C. Dec. 3, 2020). That scrutiny does not support finding a hostile work environment where, as here, it involved “issues with [a plaintiff’s] work product, [was] not physically threatening, and ultimately consisted of the kinds of ‘ordinary tribulations of the workplace’ that fall outside the ambit of Title VII.

Taylor’s remaining allegations, which concern the proposed settlement agreement and her twelve-day suspension, do not transform the above conduct into a hostile work environment claim. Although Taylor’s challenge to her suspension states a claim for discrimination, “the fact that the group [of allegations] includes one of the alleged discrete acts of discrimination … does not perforce establish a hostile environment.” Aldrich, 197 F. Supp. 3d at 138; see also Nurriddin, 674 F. Supp. 2d at 94 (“[M]ere reference to alleged disparate acts of discrimination … cannot be transformed, without more, into a hostile work environment.”). This Court has previously held that a three-day suspension and “various performance-based allegations” did not create a hostile work environment. Jimenez v. McAleenan, 395 F. Supp. 3d 22, 37 (D.D.C. 2019). Similarly here, the combination of Taylor’s somewhat longer suspension, accompanying settlement agreement, and other allegations does not “amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment.”

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s claims of discrimination (except for her discriminatory-suspension claim, which defendant did not move to dismiss) and her claim that defendant failed to accommodate her disability.

Share This: