Male Teacher/Assistant Principal’s Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment

In Dash v. The Board of Education of the City School District of New York, No. 15-CV-2013, 2017 WL 838226 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2017), the court held that the plaintiff – a male, African American assistant principal – presented enough facts to overcome defendant’s motion for summary judgment (in part), and permitted his hostile work environment claim to proceed to trial.

Plaintiff alleged “that he was subjected to disparate treatment; suffered a hostile, sexually charged work environment based upon his race and gender; and was punished in retaliation for complaining.” He alleges that the Principal, to whom he directly reported, created a hostile work environment.

The court stated the black-letter, well-established law concerning a hostile work environment claim:

To state an actionable hostile work environment claim, plaintiff must establish: (1) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment; and (2) a specific basis … for imputing the conduct that created the hostile environment to the employer.

As to the first element, the court explained:

Plaintiff’s claim of a hostile work environment rests primarily on two broad categories of conduct: (1) inappropriate remarks that were left unaddressed by plaintiff’s supervisor, and (2) discriminatory treatment with respect to meetings, professional advancement opportunities, and working conditions within the school.The derogatory statements plaintiff recalls are both “severe” and “pervasive.” Dillon, 85 F. Supp. 3d at 655. Viewing the record in a light most favorable to plaintiff, under the totality of the circumstances, plaintiff has satisfied this prong of the inquiry for the purposes of summary judgment.

A reasonable person would likely find it “hostile or abusive” if his co-workers repeatedly implied that he was engaging in inappropriate sexual relations with his students. Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787 (discussing the objective and subjective components of a hostile work environment claim). It is also, almost a fortiori, extraordinarily severe for the principal of a school to refuse to act on an assistant principal’s report of such accusations. Explicit accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of an educator towards a person she is supervising must be taken seriously and investigated promptly. Even a single accusation can reasonably be viewed as having intolerably altered plaintiff’s work environment, because it is deleterious to a school’s environment when students are led to believe that a staff member is abusing his students. Howley, 217 F.3d at 154 (finding that a single incident of verbal abuse was sufficient to raise questions of fact warranting reversal of grant of summary judgment on hostile work environment claim).

The Principal’s alleged comments and sexually explicit behavior towards plaintiff contributes to the pervasiveness of the conduct. She allegedly responded with an explicit statement when plaintiff attempted to engage her in a discussion about bullying among students, implying that a man was not capable of the task. Am. Compl. at ¶ 10.19. She allegedly walked around with her pants open in plaintiff’s presence on multiple occasions, discussed with plaintiff her sexual encounters, showed sexually explicit images on her cell phone during a meeting he attended, and made several inappropriate gestures in plaintiff’s presence. Id. at ¶¶ 10.13-10.15. The number of incidents alone is not determinative; it is the totality of the circumstances, the severity of the conduct, and the effects the conduct had on plaintiff that count. Howley, 217 F.3d at 154; Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993). In the instant matter, plaintiff was allegedly subjected to sexually explicit and accusatory comments repeatedly in a public setting, and many of the comments were specifically tied to his ability perform his job as a teacher.

As to the second element the court held that “[p]laintiff can impute the harasser’s conduct to his employer, because the Principal had immediate (or successively higher) authority over [him].”

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