Egyptian Muslim’s Hostile Work Environment Claim Against Astoria Bank Survives Summary Judgment

In Ahmed v. Astoria Bank et al, No. 16-1389-CV, 2017 WL 1906726 (2d Cir. May 9, 2017) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit vacated a summary to defendants on plaintiff’s claims that she was subjected to a hostile work environment because she is Egyptian and Muslim, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Initially, the court addressed the “threshold issue” raised by defendant – namely, that plaintiff’s affirmation submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment should not be considered because it contradicts plaintiff’s prior deposition testimony (the so-called “sham issue of fact” doctrine).

The court ruled:

Ahmed’s deposition testimony about Figeroux concerned Figeroux’s conduct at another bank prior to Ahmed’s tenure at Astoria Bank. That testimony does not contradict Ahmed’s statements that Figeroux “constantly” commented on her hijab and made several other offensive comments while she worked at Astoria Bank. As for Russo, Ahmed testified, consistent with her affirmation, that Russo used her hands for “anything she [had] to discuss” with Ahmed and that Russo used gestures “during her conversation[s] with” Ahmed. Accordingly, Ahmed’s affirmation was properly before the District Court on summary judgment.

Turning next to the grant of summary judgment, the court explained:

[T]he evidence in this case is “right on the knife’s edge of either granting [summary judgment] or allowing [the case] to go to the jury.” Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Ahmed, we conclude that a reasonable jury could find that Ahmed was subjected to discriminatory harassment that was “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working environment, and that a specific basis exists for imputing the objectionable conduct to [Astoria Bank].” Tolbert v. Smith, 790 F.3d 427, 439 (2d Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted). There was admissible evidence that Figeroux (1) “constantly” told Ahmed to remove her hijab, which he referred to as a “rag,” (2) demeaned Ahmed’s race, ethnicity, and religion “[o]n several occasions,” and (3) made a comment during Ahmed’s interview on September 11, 2013 that Ahmed and two other Muslim employees were “suspicious” and that he was thankful he was “in the other side of the building in case you guys do anything.” This evidence, together with the evidence of Russo’s comments and conduct as Ahmed’s supervisor, could lead a reasonable jury to find that Ahmed was subjected to “a steady barrage of opprobrious racial” and anti-Muslim comments and conduct constituting a hostile work environment.

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