Prison Teacher’s Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims Continue

In Small v. State of New York et al, No. 12-CV-1236S, 2017 WL 1176032 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2017), the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

In sum, plaintiff, a school teacher who worked at Attica Correctional Facility, alleged that a Corrections Officer (Cuer) subjected her to unwanted romantic advances, and that her complaints of those advances led to retaliation.

“Anti-discrimination statutes are not a general civility code, and a few isolated incidents of boorish or offensive use of language are generally insufficient to establish a hostile work environment. … However, when the incidents are extremely frequent, particularly over a short period of time, it is reasonable to infer that work conditions were altered for the worse.”

Applying the law, the court explained:

Making all inferences in Small’s favor and viewing the circumstances in their totality, this Court finds that Small has presented sufficient evidence that Cuer’s attentions “transcended coarse, hostile and boorish behavior, and strayed into the realm of alarming and threatening conduct. It is not disputed that Small notified Officer Cuer no later than March 2010 that she found his attentions and communications annoying, but Officer Cuer continued to seek her attention through notes, emails, and texts for several months. She alleges that Cuer came to her house in the early morning, accused her of violating God’s plans, and left notes that he was watching her. Small sought, and was granted, an order of protection against Officer Cuer, which he violated resulting in his arrest. Because she was so frightened at work, Small alleges that she fell ill. The instances of harassment articulated by [Small] in her [Amended Complaint] are more than single, isolated examples of verbal abuse. Because Small has submitted evidence demonstrating a series of actions and incidents sufficiently pervasive and material to allow a reasonable jury to find that Small was subject to an objectively hostile working environment, Officer Cuer’s motion for summary judgment as to Small’s hostile working environment claim will be denied. [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]

The court also denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s retaliation claim, explaining that “a reasonable finder of fact could find that moving Small’s classroom to the less-preferred second floor and the investigation of her alleged romantic relationship with an inmate were materially adverse employment actions brought on by her complaints against Officer Cuer, a favored employee.”

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