Disability-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Against NYCDOE Dismissed

In Lam v. New York City Department of Education, 18-cv-2756, 2019 WL 2327655, (S.D.N.Y. May 30, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s Americans with Disabilities-based hostile work environment claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

In this case, plaintiff, a special education teacher, alleges

that she suffers from anxiety, depression, degenerative spine or disk disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that DOE discriminated against her, failed to accommodate her disabilities, retaliated against her for engaging in protected activities, did not hire her for or promote her to more desirable positions, and created a hostile work environment based on her disabilities.

As to her hostile work environment claim, the court summarized the relevant law:

Hostile work environment claims brought under the ADA are evaluated under the same standard as hostile work environment claims bought under Title VII. See, e.g., Monterroso v. Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP, 591 F. Supp. 2d 567, 584 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). To establish a hostile work environment claim, plaintiff “must show that ‘the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.’ ” Littlejohn v. City of N.Y., 795 F.3d 297, 321 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993)). “ ‘The incidents complained of must be more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.’ ” Id. (quoting Raspardo v. Carlone, 770 F.3d 97, 114 (2d Cir. 2014)). In evaluating hostile work environment claims, courts consider the “ ‘frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.’ ”

Applying the law, the court concluded:

While Plaintiff alleges that the principals she worked for were aware of her disabilities, she has not pled facts showing that her “workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive.” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 320-321. “ ‘Hostile work environment claims are meant to protect individuals from abuse and trauma that is severe,’ ” Bermudez v. City of N.Y., 783 F. Supp. 2d 560, 579 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Ennis v. Sonitrol Mgmt. Corp., No. 02 Civ. 9070 (TPG), 2006 WL 177173, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 2006)), and Plaintiff has not pled facts showing such severe abuse or trauma.

For example, Plaintiff claims that on “September 28, 2016, as a result of the … hostile working conditions … [she] was injured physically” when she had to “open[ ] a stairway exit door.” (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 8) ¶ 42) But Plaintiff does not explain what the connection is between the alleged hostile working conditions and her opening of the heavy exit door. Similarly, Plaintiff claims that she was assigned no work on several occasions; that she was not given materials other teachers were given because she “was not a part of the permanent staff”; that a kindergarten teacher told her that she preferred substitute teachers to ATR teachers like her; and that she was subject to discipline. These allegations do not rise to the requisite level of severity. …

Although the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim, it gave plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15.