Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed as Not Administratively Exhausted at the EEOC

In Khater v. API Industries d/b/a Aluf Plastics, Inc., 2017 WL 6515531 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2017), the court dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim because plaintiff failed to “exhaust administrative remedies” at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with respect to that claim.

This decision illustrates the pitfalls present when pursuing federal employment discrimination claims, in that a misstep at the administrative-filing level can have negative repercussions throughout the remainder of the case.

The court provides the following overview of the law in this area:

In the specific context of hostile work environment claims, “to properly exhaust [such a] claim, a plaintiff must actually allege a hostile work environment claim in his EEOC Charge.” Levitant v. Hilt N.Y. Waldorf, No. 10-CV-4667, 2012 WL 414515, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2012). Articulating a disparate treatment or race discrimination claim on an adverse employment action theory “will not exhaust a hostile work environment claim.” Wright v. N.Y.C. Off-Track Betting Corp., No. 05-CV-9790, 2008 WL 762196, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 2008) (collecting cases); see, e.g., McCray v. N.Y.C. Police Dep’t, No. 99-CV-7035, 2008 WL 207845, at *1 n.2 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2008) (hostile work environment claim “not reasonably related to or implicit in [plaintiff’s] EEOC complaint regarding” alleged discriminatory suspension and termination); Smith v. Consumer Credit Counseling Servs. of Cent. N.Y., No. 03-CV-1033, 2005 WL 1842859, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2005) (EEOC charge for racial discrimination will not support a claim for racial harassment); Ige v. Command Sec. Corp, No. 99-CV-6916, 2002 WL 720944, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2002) (disparate treatment allegations in EEOC complaint not reasonably related to hostile work environment claim). “[A] single act of discrimination is not sufficient to exhaust a plaintiff’s remedies for a hostile work environment claim. (Emphasis added.)

Applying the law, the court explained why plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim must be dismissed:

Plaintiff’s EEOC Charge alleged discrimination based on his employer terminating him rather than providing long-term disability benefits. Specifically, the charge states that shortly after Plaintiff notified API that his doctor had extended his disability, API terminated him. (EEOC Charge at 3.) The charge does not refer to any harassment or ongoing discrimination that could reasonably lead to an investigation of a potential hostile work environment. Indeed, Plaintiff put the date his employment was terminated as the sole date of the discrimination in his EEOC Charge. See Mathirampuzha v. Potter, 548 F.3d 70, 76-77 (2d Cir. 2008) (single act of discrimination insufficient to be reasonably related to allegations of retaliation); Szuszkiewicz, 12 F. Supp. 3d at 341 (allegation in EEOC charge that discrimination based on termination of employment on specific date would not reasonably have led investigator to investigate claims for hostile work environment). Because Plaintiff’s claim in his EEOC Charge that Defendant terminated him after he extended his disability “rel[ies] on different facts and embod[ies] [a] different legal theor[y]” than the hostile work environment claim in the SAC, “an investigation into the former could not reasonably be expected to grow into an investigation of the latter.

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