Hostile Work Environment Claims Against First Student, Inc. Fail Due to Lack of Connection Between Alleged Bullying Etc. and Protected Class(es)

In Watkins v. First Student, Inc., 2018 WL 1135480 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2018), the court dismissed plaintiff’s race- and gender-based hostile work environment claims. Here, those claims faltered – as many do – because the alleged “hostility” was not due to plaintiff’s protected class(es).

From the decision:

Taking the allegations of the Complaint, the May 2017 Letter, and Plaintiff’s opposition as true, as the Court must, Plaintiff has described a workplace that is unwelcoming, humiliating, and, quite frankly, disturbing. That said, she does not state a claim for a hostile work environment because she does not plausibly “allege that she suffered a hostile work environment because of her gender [or her race].” Id. at 114. “When [courts] say that Title VII, and corresponding state and local laws, are not a civility code, [they] are saying even if mean-spiritedness or bullying render a workplace environment abusive, there is no violation of the law unless that mean-spiritedness or bullying is rooted in … discrimination [based on a protected characteristic].” Mendez v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 746 F. Supp. 2d 575, 606 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citation omitted). The harassment and bullying that Plaintiff describes—the sabotage to her vehicles, the vandalism, the potential cover-up of a hit and run, the intimidation by Robinson, and the other forms of antagonism—on their face do not appear to be gender-based or race-based. There are no allegations of sexually explicit behavior, gender-specific comments, or comments with racial undertones. See Kelly, 716 F.3d at 15-16 (affirming district court’s dismissal of hostile work environment claim where plaintiff did not allege “sexually explicit behavior or conversations in the office,” or actions or statements that “were of a sexual or gender-specific nature that could be perceived as demeaning to women”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Such conclusory and speculative statements are insufficient.”). There is likewise no indication that the experiences of other White women arose from their protected status or that the problems they encountered were even out of the ordinary.

Plaintiff seems to rely on the fallacy that because she belongs to a protected class, it is plausible that anything negative that happened to her at work was because of her membership in that class. Cf. Grillo v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 291 F.3d 231, 235 (2d Cir. 2002) (“Even if [plaintiff’s] highly dubious claim that he was unfairly singled out for punishment by the instructors is credited, [plaintiff] has done little more than cite to his alleged mistreatment and ask the court to conclude that it must have been related to his race.”) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted); Varughese v. Mount Sinai Med. Ctr., No. 12-CV-8812, 2015 WL 1499618, at *42 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2015) (“fallacy” for plaintiff to say: “I belong to a protected class; something bad happened to me at work; therefore, it must have occurred because I belong to a protected class”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Rissman v. Chertoff, No. 08-CV-7352, 2008 WL 5191394, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2008) (“In essence, plaintiff alleges that because he was yelled at [by his supervisors], this must have been because [of his protected status]. Such conclusory and speculative statements are insufficient.”).

Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged “a linkage or correlation [between the incidents and] the claimed ground of discrimination.” Alfano, 294 F.3d at 377. Accordingly, the hostile work environment claims are dismissed.

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