N-Word Email Insufficient to Create a Hostile Work Environment, Court Holds

In Cromwell-Gibbs v. Staybridge Suite Times Square, No. 16 CIV. 5169 (KPF), 2017 WL 2684063 (S.D.N.Y. June 20, 2017), the court dismissed plaintiff’s Title VII race-based hostile work environment claim.

The facts, in sum:

Plaintiff Merrill Cromwell-Gibbs, an African-American woman, is the former Director of Housekeeping at Defendant Staybridge Suites Times Square [] In 2015, one of Plaintiff’s former co-workers, Nicole Pacheco, sent a group e-mail attaching a video of Staybridge employees performing a skit that contained racial epithets [including the word “nigger”]. After Plaintiff expressed her offense at the video in a “reply all” e-mail, Staybridge’s General Manager, Defendant Seen Kie Chiew [] admonished Plaintiff for publicly airing her grievances. Chiew explained to Plaintiff that he had privately reprimanded Pacheco, and asked that Plaintiff apologize to Pacheco for calling her out. When Plaintiff refused to apologize, Chiew ceased exchanging pleasantries with Plaintiff at work.

After reviewing the standards for evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a Title VII hostile work environment claim, the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief.

The court explained:

Even with a minimal pleading burden in her favor, Plaintiff has not stated a claim for relief under Title VII. Nothing in the Amended Complaint suggests that a reasonable person, after receiving Pacheco’s e-mail and being admonished by Chiew, would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse. The totality of circumstances set forth in the Amended Complaint make plain that Plaintiff experienced an unfortunate, offensive workplace incident. They do not, however, establish that Plaintiff’s work environment was hostile in violation of Title VII.

The Court considers first Pacheco’s e-mail attaching the video, which e-mail is the genesis of Plaintiff’s suit and [t]he essence of Plaintiff’ Amended Complaint. The Court credits completely Plaintiff’s allegation that she “was highly offended by the video.” Pacheco should not have sent it. But the Second Circuit has affirmed—repeatedly—that [f]or racist comments, slurs, and jokes to constitute a hostile work environment … there must be more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity. … Nor does the sending of a single offensive e-mail … create a hostile work environment. … Plaintiff insists that Pacheco’s circulation of the video, standing alone, establishes a cognizable hostile work environment claim. Ample precedent demonstrates that Plaintiff is mistaken.

The court cited additional reasons for its conclusion, including that the manager took “appropriate remedial action” in response to the offensive email, and the manager’s brusqueness towards plaintiff was not related to plaintiff’s race.

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