Content, Rather Than Motivation, for Sexually Offensive Language is Relevant in Hostile Work Environment Case, According to Court

In Valleriani v. Route 390 Nissan (filed Sept. 2, 2014), the Western District of New York denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claim:

[T]o constitute gender discrimination in the form of a hostile work environment, the conduct directed at Plaintiff had to be based on her gender. Here, the incidents about which Plaintiff complains were not facially neutral. The incidents involved sexually offensive language. For example, Plaintiff testified at her deposition that her supervisor, Antinarelli, uttered comments such as “go take your pills you menopausal bitch” and referred to Plaintiff as a “bitch” and “cunt”. Plaintiff further testified that Antinarelli told her he does not “like to have women in the car business. Women can’t be in the car business because they get on my nerves.” Plaintiff testified another supervisor, Burnette, made comments such as “blow me” and referred to Plaintiff as a “bitch”. Further, a co-worker, Mike Henry, who was ultimately terminated by Defendant, screamed at Plaintiff calling her “fucking cunt” and “bitch.”
Further, Plaintiff’s former co-workers Bunce and Gritsay contend that Antinarelli frequently directed disparaging comments toward women at Defendant’s workplace, and created a “sports bar” atmosphere. …
The Court cannot conclude based on this record that Plaintiff should suffer an otherwise hostile work environment simply because the initial motivation for delivering sexual expletives and conduct was for reasons other than gender. For example, although Defendant may argue that Antinarelli made the statement that “women shouldn’t be in the car business—they are too fucking emotional—they can’t handle it” in response to Plaintiff’s expressed concerns about bank fraud, it is all too clear to the Court that Antinarelli’s comments are gender-specific, and specifically target Plaintiff as a female. As Plaintiff testified, while the initial motivation for the conduct may have been her complaints about bank fraud, the conduct was directed at her in the nature of gender-based hostility because she was a woman. …
Determination of sexual harassment “requires careful consideration of the social context in which particular behavior occurs and is experienced by its target.” Ultimately, a jury will need to resolve the issue of whether the conduct was directed at Plaintiff because of her status as a woman.
The court, however, granted defendant’s summary judgment motion as to plaintiff’s retaliation claims, finding that “no reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff’s constructive discharge in September 2010 occurred because of her complaints of discrimination starting back in 2009.”
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