Police Officer Adequately Alleges Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation Claims

In Bethea v. City of New York (decided June 12, 2014), the Eastern District of New York held that plaintiff adequately pleaded sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to repeated sexual harassment by her co-worker, Sergeant Michelle Williams, and then punished for rejecting her advances.

In upholding plaintiff’s sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims, the court reasoned:

Plaintiff has pled with specificity Sergeant Williams’ numerous alleged demands for sexual favors from Plaintiff in her Amended Complaint. Plaintiff alleges that Sergeant Williams: (a) repeatedly expressed a desire to commence a sexual relationship, over Plaintiff’s repeated objections; (b) targeted Plaintiff for ongoing, public sexual demands and derision; (c) repeatedly taunted, threatened, and publicly humiliated Plaintiff at work due to Plaintiff’s refusal to engage in a sexual relationship with her; and (d) physically attacked Plaintiff while on duty and in the command precinct house because Plaintiff refused her sexual advances. (See Compl. ¶¶ 16–23). This Circuit has held that even a single incident of harassment may give rise to a hostile work environment. Thus, under Title VII, Plaintiff has adequately articulated a cause of action for hostile work environment due to sexual harassment against Defendants.

Plaintiff also alleged that she was subjected to retaliation under Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because that employee opposed unlawful discriminatory practices, or participated in a Title VII investigation or proceeding. In upholding this claim, the court pointed to plaintiff’s allegations that Sergeant Williams harassed, berated, and assaulted her in response to her objections to entering into a sexual relationship, and that after her complaints of harassment plaintiff was punished with a suspension and subjected to a modified assignment and administrative transfer (which resulted in the loss of overtime and income).

While the court dismissed plaintiff’s claim for gender discrimination (separate from her claim of sexual harassment), it denied defendants’ motion to dismiss her claims for sexual harassment and retaliation under 42 USC 1983, unfair discipline, abuse of authority, and denial of due process and equal protection, as well as her claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

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