Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Nasty Tone” Was Not “Severe”, and Alleged Hostility Was Disconnected From Employee’s Race

In Carrington v. Mota & City of New York, 2017 WL 3835883 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 31, 2017),[1]I wrote about the court’s evaluation of plaintiff’s “disparate treatment” race discrimination claim here. the court recommended the dismissal of plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

Carrington’s factual allegations do not create a plausible inference that she has been subject to a hostile work environment at HRA. Mota’s close monitoring and “nasty tone” may be pervasive as it “occurs almost daily,” Compl. at 21, and was subjectively hostile, as Carrington states that she “become[s] ill at the thought of having contact with her,” because Mota’s behavior has caused her “to suffer from undue pressure and stress and is having a detrimental effect on [her] physical, emotional and psychological health.” Id. at 24. However, even considering the totality of the circumstances, Mota’s conduct as described by Carrington cannot be characterized as objectively severe. Carrington does not allege that Mota’s behavior was physically threatening, more severe than an offensive utterance, or that it unreasonably interfered with her work. See, e.g., Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 321; De La Peña, 953 F. Supp. 2d at 415–16 (“disrespectful” actions by defendants that embarrassed [plaintiff] in front of his peers, causing damage to his reputation,” “false accusations” by defendants that “prompted [plaintiff] to be placed on the Action Plan, and “comments that were politically incorrect [and] couched in racial animus” were not “severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment”); cf. Lewis v. Roosevelt Island Operating Corp., No. 16-CV-3071 (ALC) (SN), 2017 WL 1169647, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2017) (finding Plaintiff stated a claim for hostile work environment where “in addition to the numerous racially-charged statements” made by his supervisor, “Plaintiff also describes a pattern of facially neutral comments and practices by his supervisor … that made his job challenging and, in some instances, impossible”). Finally, Mota’s race-based slur toward Carrington on one occasion is not sufficient to support a hostile work environment claim. See La Grande, 370 Fed. App’x at 210 (“Ordinarily, a race-based hostile work environment claim must involve more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity”).
*12 Despite Carrington’s criticism of Mota’s behavior, “Title VII ‘does not prohibit employers from maintaining nasty, unpleasant workplaces, or even ones that are unpleasant for reasons that [are due to the protected characteristic].” ’ Bliss, 220 F. Supp. 3d at 423 (quoting Krasner v. HSH Nordbank AG, 680 F. Supp. 2d 502, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)); see also Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006) (“Title VII … does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).11
Additionally, Carrington does not allege that Mota’s behavior occurred as a result of Carrington’s race, as opposed to “facially neutral reactions to [Carrington’s] workplace behavior.” Cromwell-Gibbs v. Staybridge Suite Times Square, No. 16-CV-5169 (KPF), 2017 WL 2684063, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 20, 2017). Although “facially neutral incidents may be included among the totality of the circumstances that courts consider,” a plaintiff must still allege “some circumstantial or other basis for inferring that incidents [ ]neutral on their face were in fact discriminatory.” Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 547 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, Carrington has only identified one incident when Mota called her a “black bitch” in passing. Compl. at 24. However, Carrington has not described what role her race played in the context of any of her other workplace grievances, thus failing to plausibly allege a hostile work environment. See, e.g., Opoku, 2016 WL 5720807, at *14 (dismissing hostile work environment claim where “none of the incidents alleged by Plaintiff explicitly invoked his race or national origin”); Rivera v. Brooklyn Hosp. Med. Ctr., 28 F. Supp. 3d 159, 162 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (dismissing hostile work environment claim where plaintiff “alleges only one instance in which a co-worker referred to his ethnicity”). Accordingly, Carrington has not alleged that her workplace was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult,” so objectively severe or pervasive that she was subject to a hostile work environment.

1 I wrote about the court’s evaluation of plaintiff’s “disparate treatment” race discrimination claim here.
Share This: