Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Presence of KKK, Swastika Etchings Insufficient

In Williams v. County of Nassau et al, 15-cv-7098, 2019 WL 2270518 (E.D.N.Y. May 28, 2019), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

Included among the evidence presented by plaintiff were “etchings” of the letters “KKK” and a half-finished swastika; “jokes” about the KKK standing for the three Kardashian sisters, for which she was not reprimanded; the failure to conduct a full investigation or address the etchings; the failure to transfer plaintiff to a desired unit; and the denial of her request for a reasonable accommodation based on her daughter’s disability.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff’s evidence was “insufficient to permit a reasonable finder of fact to find that Plaintiff’s workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment.”

With respect to the etchings, the court explained:

In the context of racist graffiti, when graffiti is reported to the employer and the employer promptly removes the offending language, the employer has taken appropriate remedial action. … Here it is undisputed that the etchings were removed within 2-3 hours after Plaintiff’s report. That, however, was not the only action taken by the County. Photographs of the etchings were taken of the etching … . Upon Plaintiff’s report, the matter was reported up the chain of command and, that same week, Sheriff Sposato issued the Order stating that discriminatory markings will not be tolerated and that any staff engaging in such conduct would be subject to immediate discipline[.] … A discussion of hate symbols was added to the cultural diversity training scheduled for December 2014. And while a ‘full investigation’ to try to determine who made the subject etchings was not conducted, no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the decision not to conduct such an investigation was unreasonable in light of the absence of cameras in the area, that the approximately 25 corrections officers assigned to the Medical Unit and numerous Armor Health Services staff had unrestricted access to the area, and the lack of information as to when the etching might have been made.

Furthermore, citing the Second Circuit’s ruling in Russell v. New York University, 739 F.Appx. 28 (2d Cir. June 25, 2018), the court rejected plaintiff’s argument that defendant should have done more, such as conducting “sensitivity training.”