NYC Public School Teacher’s Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Richardson-Holness v. Alexander, No. 13-CV-2761 (NG), 2016 WL 4027978 (E.D.N.Y. July 26, 2016), the court denied in part defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim (with respect to certain alleged actions) and her hostile work environment claim.

In sum, plaintiff (a probationary teacher) alleged “that defendant Michael A. Alexander, the principal of the New York City public school at which plaintiff used to teach, sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her for resisting his advances.”

Sexual Harassment – Hostile Work Environment

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim, the court explained that “[c]laims of hostile work environment are actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and governed by the standard developed under Title VII”, that “[t]o prevail, a plaintiff must produce evidence of harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment”, and that “[d]irect contact with an intimate body part constitutes one of the most severe forms of sexual harassment.”

Applying the law, the court concluded:

[D]efendant is alleged to have groped plaintiff’s buttocks while alluding to favors she owed him. Defendant quibbles that Redd involved repeated touching of the plaintiff’s breasts, whereas this case involves just the one instance of groping. But even a single incident, if sufficiently severe, can render a workplace hostile. A rational jury could conclude that the groping plaintiff alleges rises to that level. … In any event, plaintiff does not predicate her hostile work environment claim on the groping incident alone. Defendant is also alleged to have repeatedly massaged plaintiff’s shoulders, leered at her suggestively, complimented her dress and legs, and contacted her outside work hours to inquire about her weekend plans. Beyond that, after plaintiff rejected defendant’s advances, he repeatedly rebuked her with a severity that allegedly drove one witnessing colleague to tears and required plaintiff to seek inpatient care. Looking at the evidence as a whole, as is required, a jury could find plaintiff’s workplace hostile.

Sexual Harassment – Quid Pro Quo

As to plaintiff’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, the court explained that “[a] plaintiff can prevail on a quid pro quo harassment claim by demonstrating that a tangible employment action resulted from a refusal to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands.”

Defendant asserted that “plaintiff cannot establish causation—that is, that plaintiff’s resistance to his alleged sexual advances was a motivating factor behind any of the actions at issue … because individuals who are not alleged to have harbored any impermissible bias … were responsible for the actions plaintiff challenges.” The court rejected this argument, noting that “employment decisions that are made collectively can be tainted by the bias of a single biased individual so long as the biased party played a meaningful role in the decision-making process.”

It concluded that a jury could find causation between plaintiff’s rejection of defendant’s sexual advances and (1) the loss of her “dean” title; (2) defendant’s March 2009 letter of reprimand; (3) the negative teaching evaluations she received from defendant in June and October 2009; (4) the denial of pay for October 2009 per session work; and (5) her termination.

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