Sexual Harassment Claim Dismissed; Court Cites Lack of Complaint’s Specificity

In Cowan v. City of Mount Vernon, No. 14-CV-8871 (KMK), 2017 WL 1169667 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2017), the court dismissed plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim as insufficiently pled.

This decision illustrates the degree of specificity courts look for when evaluating these types of claims on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

From the Opinion & Order:

The extent of Plaintiff’s allegations of sexual harassment is that “[f]rom very early in her employment as a police officer, Bailey engaged in sexual harassment of Plaintiff. His conduct included making comments about Plaintiff’s body, making requests for sex[,] and even going so far as demanding money from Plaintiff if she was unwilling to sleep with him.” … While Plaintiff argues in her opposition papers that she “does not allege that this happened just once[,] but that it continued over her employment,” specific allegations are missing from the SAC. The lack of specific allegations is complicated by the fact that Plaintiff fails to offer a timeline of events from which the Court can discern the course of the alleged violations. Plaintiff asserts that Bailey’s harassment began “[f]rom very early in her employment,” the conduct “continued” and was “pervasive and ongoing,” until Plaintiff was transferred and “Bailey’s harassment declined[.]” Yet, Plaintiff does not indicate when the transfer occurred and thus the Court cannot determine for how long the alleged harassment persisted.

To be clear, allegations of “comments about Plaintiff’s body,” and “requests for sex” are troubling and, not surprisingly, are the type of allegations that routinely support a hostile work environment claim. … But Plaintiff’s SAC is entirely devoid of any allegations regarding the frequency or severity of such occurrences. For instance, Plaintiff does not state how many comments or requests were made and when, or what was said. Such amorphous allegations are insufficient even to clear the low bar of plausibility. …

“Isolated harassing events do not reach the level [of altering the conditions of a plaintiff’s workplace] unless they involve an extraordinarily severe single event, or a series of incidents that were sufficiently continuous and concerted to alter the conditions of a plaintiff’s working environment.” And while an “extraordinarily severe” single event could constitute harassment, here Plaintiff offers no additional allegations about Bailey’s propositioning that would allow the inference that it was “extraordinarily severe.”

Nor is the Court persuaded by Plaintiff’s arguments that “the City is in sole possession of numerous written complaints about the sexual harassment” and thus Defendants are aware of “the exact number of times Plaintiff complained and the exact nature of the complaints Plaintiff made.” Such assertions say nothing about Plaintiff’s obligation to submit “well-pleaded facts” as to “permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” That is particularly true because Plaintiff presumably has first-hand knowledge of what was said to her by Bailey and when and how often he made any actionable comments. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims against Bailey and Johnson are dismissed.

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