Muslim Woman Overcomes Summary Judgment on Religious and National Origin Based Hostile Work Environment, But Not Disparate Treatment and Retaliation, Claims

In Hababi v. Lutheran Med. Ctr., 2016 NY Slip Op 32554(U), 501765/15 (NY Sup. Ct. Kings Cty. Dec. 16, 2016), a Brooklyn state court judge denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment (but granted it with respect to, and hence dismissed, her discrimination and retaliation) claims.

In sum, defendant terminated plaintiff – a medical assistant – based on its belief that she improperly accessed and disclosed confidential patient records. Plaintiff alleged that she was terminated (and subjected to a hostile work environment) because of her religion (Muslim) and national origin, in violation of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

In addition:

In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that throughout the course of her employment with LMC she was subjected to unlawful employment practices and repeated acts of discrimination and retaliation as a result of her national origin and religion[]. Among other things, plaintiff asserts that every time an incident involving the Islamic terror group “ISIS” occurred, her immediate supervisor, Ms. Deweil, would make comments such as, “you Muslims, look what you do to the Americans”; plaintiff further claims that Ms. Deweil would throw magazines depicting the atrocities allegedly committed by ISIS at her[]. Moreover, plaintiff alleges that both Ms. Deweil and Mr. Cortes made inappropriate comments about her hijab. Specifically, plaintiff states that on one occasion Ms. Deweil requested that plaintiff remove her hijab because it was “[a] very nice day” and “[plaintiff] ha[d] no right to have that scarf because [she was] living in the United States”[]. With respect to Mr. Cortes, plaintiff claims that on approximately five to seven occasions he questioned why she wore the hijab, and made comments like “you are so beautiful, you should take it off. You are in the United States”[]. Plaintiff further claims that a Jewish co-worker named Sophia did not like her, and would say things to her like “Arabs kill Jews” and “Muslim people kill each other for no reason”[].

In dismissing plaintiff’s religious and national origin discrimination claims, the court noted that “defendants have a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for terminating plaintiff’s employment” – namely, plaintiff’s disclosure of a patient’s confidential health information – and that plaintiff “failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the circumstances leading to her termination give rise to an inference of discrimination.”

The court permitted plaintiff’s hostile work environment to proceed, noting that “in light of … conflicting affidavits of the parties … a triable issue of fact exists as to whether plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment.” For example, while plaintiff stated in her affidavit that she complained about her treatment just a few weeks prior to her termination, an affidavit submitted by defendant Cortes denied that such complaint was made and denied making any comments to plaintiff about removing her hijab.

The court dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claims, noting that defendants “sufficiently demonstrated as a matter of law that no triable issue of fact exists as to whether the adverse employment action plaintiff suffered was based on her violation of company policy rather than as an act-of retaliation”, and that plaintiff failed to “submit sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find a causal connection between any protected activity in which [s]he engaged and any adverse employment action, or to rebut the defendants’ evidence that any adverse action taken against h[er] was justified by legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.”

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