Allegations Including “N” Word Use and Racist Confederate Flag-Flying Supervisor Sufficient to Plausibly Allege Race Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment Claims

In Love v. Premier Util. Servs., LLC, No. 15-cv-5698, 2016 WL 2853532, at (E.D.N.Y. May 13, 2016), the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims of race discrimination (wrongful termination) and racially hostile work environment claims.

Race Discrimination

As to plaintiff’s race discrimination claim, Eastern District Judge Spatt ruled:

[T]he complaint in this case clearly states a viable cause of action based on race-based employment discrimination. The Plaintiffs, all African American, allege that they were transferred to a Premier location that was staffed with predominantly Caucasian employees, including one who allegedly identified as a white supremacist. They further allege that, upon arriving at the new facility, they were subjected to various racially-tinged remarks by their direct supervisor and others in managerial positions. This included numerous occasions were the word “nigger” was used, including at least one such occasion where that term was directed at the Plaintiff Love. In this regard, the allegations include multiple statements that overtly and impliedly suggested that the supervisors of the Hauppauge location did not want African Americans joining the company’s Long Island contingency. In each case, the Plaintiffs allege that they were made to feel unwelcome and were eventually terminated, ostensibly without cause. Under the authority of [the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in] Swierkiewicz [v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-11, 122 S. Ct. 992, 152 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2002)] and its progeny, the Court finds that these allegations lend sufficient plausible support to a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation to pass Rule 12 muster. Indeed, in the Court’s view, there is no doubt that the allegations give the Defendants fair notice of what the Plaintiffs’ claims are and the grounds upon they rest. No more is required. Accordingly, the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ claim of racial discrimination under § 1981 for failure to state a claim [under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)] is denied.

Hostile Work Environment

The court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss one plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, but granted it as to two other plaintiffs.

Initially, it noted that, in a multi-plaintiff case, a group of plaintiffs “may not aggregate their allegations in order to depict an overall hostile work environment.” Instead, “as to each of the Plaintiffs, the complaint must set forth sufficient facts to make it plausible that they individually suffered a racially hostile work environment.”

Plaintiff Love plausibly alleged a racially hostile work environment, where he alleged (among other things) that he was given a “fake parking ticket” to make him uncomfortable and unwelcome, that he was forced to report to a white supremacist who told him that he proudly displays a Confederate flag at his home, and that a senior employee “stated to other supervisors in [plaintiff’s] presence that the ‘stupid niggers’ were going to fail the Training Program.”

His allegations did not fail under the “stray remarks” rule, where the “number and frequency of the alleged remarks over a relatively short period of time distinguishes the facts alleged by [plaintiff] from other cases where claims based on an allegedly hostile work environment were found to be too episodic or non-severe to withstand judicial scrutiny.”

Nor did Love’s relatively short tenure at one location (approximately four months) warrant dismissal; the court cited cases where a hostile work environment claim was sustained in cases where it occurred over similarly short periods.

The court reached a different conclusion with respect to two other plaintiffs, Dunham and Nelson. They “each allege to have witnessed only one discriminatory remark” that “was not directed at them”, and “there is no allegation that either Dunham or Nelson knew about one another’s experience, or that either of them were aware of any of the allegedly abusive treatment experienced by Love.”

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