Hostile Work Environment Claims, Asserted by Muslim Uzbek Woman, Survive Dismissal

In Makhsudova v. City of New York et al, 2022 WL 1571152 (S.D.N.Y. May 18, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

From the decision:

Plaintiff’s proffered evidence supporting her hostile work environment claims is slightly different than that supporting her discrimination claims. In brief, Plaintiff alleges that a hostile work environment was created because (i) Defendant Cordero denied Plaintiff’s requests for a later lunch break during Ramadan; (ii) Defendants Alfredo and Cordero consistently forced Plaintiff to work with male officers who stared at her inappropriately and made inappropriate comments; (iii) Defendants Alfredo and Cordero assigned Plaintiff unworkable assignments; (iv) unspecified Defendants placed Plaintiff on probation for larceny charges that were already dismissed; and (v) Defendant Pendleton, Plaintiff’s supervisor, repeatedly subjected her to derogatory comments and referred to her by demeaning nicknames. Again, the Court will address the claims in turn.

Beginning with Defendant Cordero’s alleged unwillingness to modify Plaintiff’s lunch break, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s failure to detail the number and timing of these denials forecloses their use as evidence of a hostile work environment. Cf. Kugel, 2021 WL 5701408, at *4 (“Given that defendants’ alleged discriminatory behavior [specifically, their failures to accommodate plaintiff’s requests for accommodations because of the COVID-19 pandemic] occurred in episodes over a very small fraction of Dr. Kugel’s employment, the conduct does not rise to the level of pervasiveness required to state a hostile work environment claim under NYSHRL.”). Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendants (i) consistently forced Plaintiff to work with male officers who stared at her inappropriately and made inappropriate comments and (ii) assigned Plaintiff “unworkable” assignments are similarly too vague to be actionable. See Almontaser v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., No. 13 Civ. 5621 (ILG), 2014 WL 3110019 (E.D.N.Y. July 8, 2014), at *8 (rejecting hostile work environment claim where allegations were “simply too vague,” leaving court unable to “conclude that plaintiff’s work environment was objectively hostile”). And Plaintiff’s claim that Defendants placed her on probation for larceny charges that were already dismissed, even if true, is neither severe nor pervasive enough to substantiate a hostile work environment claim.

Plaintiff has more traction with her final category of evidence, i.e., her claim that on numerous occasions, Pendleton would tell Plaintiff that “her people” lived in mountains and ate horse meat; that he would “neigh” like a horse in Plaintiff’s direction; and that he would “constantly make fun of Plaintiff by calling her ‘the first Uzbek female’ rather than her actual name.” While it is not obvious to the Court that the phrase “first Uzbek female” is a pejorative, the Court agrees that, taken together, Pendleton’s comments are sufficiently severe and pervasive to allege an abusive working environment. Although “nasty” comments “do not amount to ‘adverse employment actions’ because they are not materially adverse changes in the terms, conditions or privileges of [ ] employment,” Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment due to the continuous and overtly hostile nature of Pendleton’s alleged discriminatory conduct. See Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 20 Civ. 10050 (LAP), 2022 WL 799551, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 16, 2022) (quoting Fridia v. Henderson, No. 99 Civ. 10749 (BSJ), 2000 WL 1772779, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)); see also Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 102-03 (2d Cir. 2010) (vacating and remanding lower court’s grant of summary judgment on hostile work environment claim where defendant made “approximately six” comments “over a period of seven months”); Snell v. Suffolk Cnty., 782 F.2d 1094, 1101 (2d Cir. 1986) (finding hostile work environment where plaintiffs “were subjected to a virtual barrage of racially offensive slurs and demeaning epithets that directly affected their work”). “The question of whether a work environment is sufficiently hostile to violate Title VII is one of fact,” and the Court thus declines to decide it at the motion-to-dismiss stage. Johnson v. J. Walter Thompson U.S.A., LLC, 224 F. Supp. 3d 296, 309 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., Inc., 258 F.3d 62, 75 (2d Cir. 2001)).

Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under Title VII against the City, and her analogous claim under the NYSHRL against the City and Pendleton, but grants the motion as to the remaining Defendants.

[Cleaned up.]

Having found that the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims survived dismissal under federal and state law, it necessarily held that their claims (against the City and defendant Pendleton) survived under the New York City Human Rights Law.

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