Court Finds “Sex Neutral” Events Contributed to Actionable Hostile Work Environment Against Hotel Employer

In a recent decision, Feldesman v. Interstate Hotels LLC, 16-cv-9352, 2019 WL 1437576 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2019), the court, inter alia, explained that, under the circumstances, so-called “sex neutral” events contributed to plaintiff’s actionable hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

Interstate also asserts that the evidence establishes that struggles about money, authority, and bar procedures motivated the comments made by Prescott. Doc. 43, 9–11. Feldesman argues that Prescott sought to undermine her ability to make money and gain power precisely because he did not want a woman to surpass him. Doc. 54, 19. Indeed, Feldesman testified that “he didn’t like that I was good at my job and that I was a woman;” and that he did not like her as a woman “[b]ecause I stood up to him and because … I didn’t just listen to whatever he wanted to do.”

Feldesman further claims that the Court should view these facially sex-neutral disputes in light of Prescott’s sex-based comments because the Second Circuit has held that, in the Title VII context, “[f]acially neutral incidents may be included, of course, among the totality of the circumstances that courts consider in any hostile work environment claim” as long as there is “some circumstantial [evidence] or other basis for inferring that incidents sex-neutral on their face were in fact discriminatory.” Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 378 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Raniola v. Bratton, 243 F.3d 610, 622 (2d Cir. 2001) (finding that “[b]y virtue of the sex-based comments made” earlier, “a reasonable jury could infer that the other abuse [plaintiff] suffered was also on account of sex” because “[w]e have held that prior derogatory comments by a co-worker may permit an inference that further abusive treatment by the same person was motivated by the same sex-bias manifested in the earlier comments.”). A triable issue of fact exists as to whether gender-based animus was one of the factors motivating Prescott’s actions, even those that seemed, on their face, to be sex-neutral.