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Court Dismisses Hostile Work Environment Claim Based on Use of the Word “Girl” Towards Black Woman

by mjpospis on June 8, 2018

in Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Race/Color Discrimination

In Mondesir v. North Shore-Lij Health System, 2018 WL 2722866 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. No. 150572/2017 June 6, 2018), the court dismissed plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment employment discrimination claim.[1]Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal on June 8, 2018.

Specifically, the court rejected plaintiff’s contention that a racially hostile work environment was created by her supervisor’s reference to her as “girl” at least two or three times. Plaintiff alleged that she was offended by the use of this word “due to the historical use of ‘girl’ as a negative reference to black women.” Plaintiff attempted to draw a parallel between the use of “girl” with respect to black women, on the one hand, and the use of “boy” with respect to black men, on the other.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 546 U.S. 454 (2006), the court “decline[d] to find that he use of the word ‘girl’ can never be actionable as the basis for a discrimination claim.” It also noted, however, that while the word “suggests disrespect in this context, especially when referring to an experienced professional such as plaintiff” it “upon first glance[] does not automatically connote racial animosity.”

Regardless of whether the use of the word “girl” evidenced racial animosity, the facts of this case were not sufficient to survive dismissal:

Plaintiff claims that Balidemic called her girl several times- “at least three times in person and at least twice in an e-mail to several staff members” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 19 at 23).

However, these few instances do not establish a hostile work environment based on racial animus- it amounts to petty slights from an immature supervisor. With respect to the emails, as noted by Judge Koetl, “The emails are benign, and nothing about the context of the emails suggest that they were racially derogatory. Indeed, it would be a stretch to categorize any one of these emails as even a ‘mere offensive utterance’ ” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 59 at 9).

There is simply not enough in this record to support plaintiff’s claim of a hostile work environment based on racial discrimination even under the lower NYCHRL standard. Plaintiff’s subjective interpretation of being referred to as “girl” is not supported by anything that could raise an issue of fact concerning Balidemic’s racial animus. And there is nothing to suggest that these isolated comments negatively affected the conditions of plaintiff’s employment. Simply put, the circumstances of this case lead to the conclusion that while Balidemic and plaintiff did not get along, their disagreement did not rise to the level of a hostile work environment motivated by racial antagonism. Rather, the deposition testimony suggests that plaintiff felt disrespected as an accomplished professional.

And, as the First Department emphasized in Williams, “[W]e assure employers that summary judgment will still be available where they can provide that the alleged discriminatory conduct does not represent a ‘borderline’ situation but one that could only be reasonably interpreted by a trier of fact as representing no more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences” (Williams, 61 AD3d at 80). This is not a borderline situation- it is a case where plaintiff did not like being called a certain name that she found disrespectful. That is a trivial inconvenience not evidence of a hostile work environment based on race.

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1. Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal on June 8, 2018.

Categories: Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Race/Color Discrimination

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