Plaintiff Plausibly Alleges Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, and Aiding/Abetting Claims

In Cid v. ASA Institute of Business & Computer Technology, Inc., the Eastern District of New York found that plaintiff stated plausible claims for hostile work environment and retaliation (as well as aiding and abetting against individual defendants).

Plaintiff claimed that her supervisor made unwelcome sexual comments, gave her unwanted gifts, and asked her out, and that he threatened to fire her when she turned him down.

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court considered and rejected defendants’ argument that plaintiff’s allegations were based on “episodic and isolated comments”. That argument:

glosses over Bloom’s conduct after Plaintiff rejected his advances, including Plaintiff’s allegations that Bloom threatened that he would attempt to have Plaintiff punished and fired, exhibited general hostility whenever Plaintiff requested assistance on work related issues, and yelled at Plaintiff and would accuse her, without any basis, of failing to perform job duties. … This conduct, when viewed together with the remainder of Plaintiff’s allegations, is sufficient to withstand dismissal at this stage.

Defendant was furthermore not entitled to rely on the Faragher-Ellerth defense, in light of plaintiff’s “allegation that her complaints about Bloom … were ignored and never investigated”.

Plaintiff’s claims under the New York City Human Rights Law survived as to her supervisor, Bloom, but were defeated with respect to two individuals (Swain and Jackson) because there were no allegations that they participated in the conduct that gave rise to plaintiff’s hostile work environment complaint.

Plaintiff’s aiding and abetting claims under NYCHRL § 8-107(6), however, survived as to Swain and Jackson, in light of plaintiff’s allegations that they “failed to investigate or take remedial action in response to” her complaints.

Finally, plaintiff plausibly stated retaliation claims under Title VII and the NYCHRL.  The court (citing the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Summa v. Hofstra Univ.) found that “the context and sequences of events alleged —beginning with Plaintiff’s initial complaints to Swain in October 2011 and Jackson in December 2011 and her subsequent firing in January 2012 — took place within a sufficiently close timeframe to state a plausible retaliation claim.”

As to plaintiff’s aiding/abetting retaliation claim under the NYCHRL, the court rejected defendants’ argument because it improperly suggested “that NYCHRL retaliation claims can only be asserted against supervisors that have the authority to hire and fire employees”.   It cited to the Southern District’s decision in Malena v. Victoria’s Secret Direct for the proposition that the “NYCHRL provides for individual liability of an employee regardless of ownership or decisionmaking power”.

In any event, plaintiff’s allegations “lead to the reasonable inference that Bloom and Swain had authority over personnel decisions and actually participated in conduct giving rise to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim”.  Specifically, plaintiff alleged that they both “had supervisory authority over Plaintiff and, in that capacity, reprimanded Plaintiff, without basis, and threatened to attempt to have her transferred or fired around the time that Plaintiff complained about Bloom’s behavior”.

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