Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed, Despite “Deplorable”, Arguably Racial Comments

In Matlock-Abdullah v. New York State Department of Labor, 15-cv-0294, 2017 WL 5905564 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2017), the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims of, inter alia, hostile work environment. Notably, that claim failed, despite the court’s recognition that the comments plaintiff were “deplorable” and were arguably racial in nature.

From the decision:

Plaintiff’s argument that co-workers referred to her clothes as “jungle dress” and to her smile as a “Camel smile” certainly carry overtones of racial animus. However, Plaintiff has failed to cite admissible record evidence in support of her contention that she “often times” heard co-workers refer to her clothes as “jungle dress.” Rather, Defendant correctly argues … that Plaintiff’s deposition testimony establishes that she heard this reference only once and it was communicated to her by a co-worker who had overheard the reference during a conversation between other employees. … Moreover, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has asserted, for the first time in this litigation, that she has overheard co-workers referring to her smile as a “Camel smile.” Indeed, Plaintiff has not provided a citation to admissible record evidence in support of this contention nor has the Court been able to find any evidence of these references in the record. In any event, even assuming that these allegations are true, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that these references, while deplorable, were severe or pervasive to establish a hostile work environment.

The court noted 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, meaning that instead of sporadic racial slurs, there must be a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments.” See Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997).

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