Court Upholds Plaintiff’s Gender Discrimination & Retaliation Verdict; Cites Sexual Comments and “Affair” Rumors

In Rivera v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., No. 303092/08, 2017 WL 1082764 (N.Y. App. Div. Mar. 23, 2017), the court upheld jury findings of gender discrimination and retaliation. This case illustrates, among other things, how workplace rumors/gossip can give rise to an actionable claim.

As to plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim, the court explained:

Plaintiff was a supervisor employed by defendant. The evidence adduced at trial showed that one of plaintiff’s fellow supervisors ruthlessly harassed her, both on the job and outside of work hours. The supervisor repeatedly made gross and highly offensive sexually-charged remarks to plaintiff, including in front of plaintiff’s subordinates, causing them to lose respect for plaintiff and fueling rumors about her proclivity to engage in workplace affairs. The supervisor called her and followed her around after work, forcing her to give him rides and otherwise communicate with him, on pain of threats of losing her job. The evidence further showed that plaintiff was the subject of widespread and unfounded workplace rumors that she was having affairs with multiple coworkers, and that, in this lax environment, her subordinates made crude and offensive remarks to each other and in plaintiff’s presence. The foregoing evidence supports the jury’s finding that defendant engaged in gender discrimination in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law[.]

The court also held that plaintiff established her cause of action for retaliation. In response to her complaints about the supervisor’s conduct and the rumors, HR “responded with a formal (albeit ineffectual) investigation.”

In addition, defendant responded to plaintiff’s HR complaint by “repeatedly transferring plaintiff, ending in her March 2007 transfer to a facility near the World Trade Center, run by a supervisor who was the mentor of the supervisor who had harassed plaintiff, and who was openly hostile to plaintiff, which led to a series of write-ups and plaintiff’s termination.” This evidence, held the court, “amply established plaintiff’s prima facie cause of action for retaliation.”

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