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Sexual Harassment Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Evidence Included Sexually Inappropriate Comments and Belittling Plaintiff in Front of Male Co-Workers

by mjpospis on August 10, 2017

in Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Gender Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment

In Bentivegna v. People’s United Bank, No. 214CV599ADSGRB, 2017 WL 3394601 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 7, 2017), the court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claims.

The law:

To establish a hostile work environment claim under federal and New York State law, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct at issue created an environment that is both objectively and subjectively hostile. Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 436 (2d Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 126 S. Ct. 2405, 165 L.Ed. 2d 345 (2006); White v. Fuji Photo Film USA, Inc., 434 F. Supp. 2d 144, 154–155 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). Therefore, the Plaintiff must not only allege that she found the environment offensive, but that a reasonable person also would have found the environment to be hostile or abusive. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21–22, 114 S. Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed. 2d 295 (1993).
To those ends, she must show that her workplace was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working environment.” Harris, 510 U.S. at 21 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Patterson v. Cty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 227 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Forrest v. Jewish Guild for Blind, 3 N.Y.3d 295, 305, 310–11, 786 N.Y.S.2d 382, 819 N.E.2d 998, (N.Y. 2004) (applying the standard for New York state law claim of hostile work environment).
Courts must look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether an environment is “hostile” or “abusive” and should consider: (1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s “work performance.” Harris, 510 U.S. at 23.
Even when a plaintiff establishes that he was exposed to an objectively and subjectively hostile work environment, “[ ]he will not have a claim … unless [ ]he can also demonstrate that the hostile work environment was caused by animus towards [him] as a result of [his] membership in a protected class.”

Here are the facts, as summarized by the court, that the court determined were sufficient to overcome summary judgment:

Plaintiff has identified eight specific incidents over the course of approximately nine incidents over the course of about 20 months. These incidents included: [Defendant Dan] Casey [President and Chief Executive Officer of Defendant People’s United Insurance Agency, Inc.] emailing several people, including the Plaintiff, that a male co-worker did not want to meet with three chatty girls; Casey telling the Plaintiff to “man up” and drink at a bar, and later that night banging on his chest while running around a car and shouting at a co-worker on the street; Casey said that a girl in Long Island was kicking other employees’ butts; Casey implied that his group wanted to “do” the girl scouts; Casey saying at a restaurant that he would “take two of those,” referencing a female hostess’ breasts; the hanging of a poster prominently featuring a woman’s cleavage but not her face—and the poster being replaced by one that depicted a woman in fishnet stockings; Casey telling the Plaintiff’s entire office, in front of her, that he was happy that she succeeded “despite being a woman;” Casey allegedly telling the Plaintiff that she only makes money because of him, and her family is better off because of him; and Casey brought a less qualified male producer to a networking meeting. …

Casey belittled the Plaintiff because of her gender in front of male co-workers on more than one occasion, and made sexually inappropriate comments several times in front of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff actively sought employment elsewhere while she worked at PUIA, and a rational juror could find that she did so because her working conditions were so altered by the hostile work environment. The relationship between the Plaintiff and Casey had become so hostile after these incidents that Sandberg often intervened and appeared to serve as a mediator between the two.

In reaching its conclusion, the court cited case law standing for the proposition that “because the line between boorish and inappropriate behavior and actionable sexual harassment … is admittedly indistinct, its haziness counsels against summary judgment.”

Categories: Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Gender Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment

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