Crass Text Messages to Co-Worker, Not Discrimination, Were Reason For Termination; “Niagara”, “Chia Pet” Comments Did Not Constitute Hostile Work Environment

In Redfern-Wallace v. Buffalo News, Inc., No. 12-CV-471, 2016 WL 4361129 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2016), the court adopted a Magistrate’s Report & Recommendation that defendants’ motions for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s discriminatory-discharge, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims be granted.

As to plaintiff’s discriminatory-discharge claim, the court explained:

Based on the undisputed facts, it is clear that The News terminated the plaintiff’s employment because she sent a barrage of crass and harassing text messages to her coworker, Karen Greiner, who then showed the text messages to management. There is no evidence suggesting that the plaintiff’s termination in any way resulted from discrimination or retaliation, so no reasonable jury could find for the plaintiff on those claims. … [A]fter reviewing the record in some depth, this Court has found no evidence that Ms. Greiner responded to the plaintiff’s messages in kind, or, even more importantly, that discrimination can be inferred from [the] way The News investigated Ms. Greiner’s complaint against the plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s hostile work environment and retaliation claims fared no better:

At oral argument, the plaintiff also described several previous incidents –the most serious of which seem to have occurred in 1993 and 2005 – in which she complained of sexual harassment or discriminatory comments by her coworkers. More recently, she complained to management about a racial epithet appearing on a document that she handled (according to The News, a delivery label with a misspelling of the word “Niagara”). In addition, shortly before the incident that led to her termination, she complained that a coworker referred to her as a chia pet. Even viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, however, such infrequent or remote-in-time incidents – involving the conduct of employees who had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s termination – are insufficient to raise a genuine dispute of material fact. And that is true with respect to the plaintiff’s disparate treatment claim, her retaliation claim, and – to the extent that she is alleging one – her hostile work environment claim.

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