In Reno v. Structuretech New York, Inc., No. 160158/2021, 2022 WL 3999584 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Aug. 25, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims of race-based discrimination and hostile work environment under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws, as well as retaliation under the New York State Human Rights Law.
Plaintiff, a Black man, alleges, among other things, that another employee referred to plaintiff as “boy” and said “I have never been racist but working here is making me racist”, and that defendant terminated him after he complained to Human Resources.
As to plaintiff’s discrimination and hostile work environment claims, the court explained:
A plaintiff claiming discrimination under the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL must allege that (1) [he or she] is a member of a protected class; (2) [he or she] was qualified to hold the position; (3) [he or she] was terminated from employment or suffered another adverse employment action; and (4) the discharge or other adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
Here, plaintiff has sufficiently pled that he was a member of a protected class (a Black man), was qualified to hold the position, and was terminated from his employment. As to the fourth element, plaintiff alleged defendant Hunt repeatedly referred to plaintiff as “boy” and put that word in context by stating on one occasion, “that’s what they used to say back in the day”. These comments were followed by defendants Hunt and Smyth’s alleged actions micro-managing his work and setting unreasonable demands, ultimately leading up to plaintiff’s “final warning” and termination. Thus, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged at this stage that his termination occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims, it is an unlawful discriminatory practice under the NYSHRL for an employer to subject any individual to harassment because of the individual’s race. To plead an actionable claim for hostile work environment, a plaintiff must allege he or she was subjected to “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because of membership in a protected category; plaintiff need not show that the conduct was severe or pervasive. Under the NYCHRL, a plaintiff must show that he or she has been treated less well than other employees because of his or her protected status.
Defendant Hunt repeatedly referred to plaintiff as “boy,” adding “that’s what they used to say back in the day,” and defendants Hunt and Smyth additionally subjected plaintiff to micro-management and unreasonable work demands, which was allegedly typical of how they treated non-white employees. Plaintiff’s allegations of defendants’ conduct, taken as a whole, is thus sufficient to state a claim for hostile work environment.
As to plaintiff’s retaliation claims, the court explained that plaintiff engaged in “protected activity” by complaining to Human Resources, and that defendants “hyper-scrutinized plaintiff’s work and made unreasonable demands of plaintiff from the time of his complaint to Human Resources until his termination.” Based on this, when viewed appropriately at this procedural stage, the court held that the complaint adequately sets forth a cause of action for retaliation.