Uncivil? Maybe. “Hostile Work Environment”? No.

A recent decision, Jeanty v. Precision Pipeline Solutions, LLC, 18-CV-7721, 2019 WL 3532157 (SDNY Aug. 2, 2019), illustrates that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a general civility code for the American workplace. Here, the court, inter alia, dismisses plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim brought under the statute.

To be sure, plaintiff here alleged conduct that is anything but professional, including the following: a supervisor asking plaintiff what he thought about “fags and or gay people”; a co-worker talking about a “Hitler mustache” and doing a “Nazi march”; a reference to “slave work”; and plaintiff’s discovery of “drawings of male genitals” and “Nazi” graffiti.

Here’s the legal standard, as summarized by the court:

To state a claim for a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, a plaintiff must plead facts that would tend to show that the complained of conduct: (1) is objectively severe or pervasive—that is, creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s [protected status].” Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and alterations omitted). Ultimately, to survive a motion to dismiss, “a plaintiff need only plead facts sufficient to support the conclusion that she was faced with ‘harassment … of such quality or quantity that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse. …

[W]hether a particular work environment is objectively hostile is necessarily a fact-intensive inquiry” that “should be assessed based on the totality of the circumstances.” Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d at 113–14 (internal quotation marks omitted). Salient factors include: “(1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether it is threatening and humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Id. at 113 (internal quotation omitted). “[E]ven 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.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff’s allegations was insufficient to allege a hostile work environment claim:

Here, plaintiff fails to allege his environment was objectively hostile or, even if it were, that it was made hostile because of plaintiff’s protected status. Plaintiff alleges approximately five incidents over the course of his four-month employment at Precision that caused him to perceive his environment as hostile: (i) Monk’s comment regarding performing “slave work”; (ii) Monk scratching his genitals and then touching plaintiff; (iii) a supervisor asking plaintiff what he thinks about “fags and or gay people”; (iv) a co-worker’s comment about a Hitler moustache and his goose-stepping around; and (v) plaintiff’s discovery of graffiti in a portable toilet. (Am. Compl. at 8, 11). These incidents are no more than episodic, and none of them is severe.

Moreover, only three of the alleged incidents could arguably be interpreted as based on plaintiff’s alleged protected status: Monk’s comment about slave work, Monk’s scratching of his genitals, and plaintiff’s discovery of graffiti in a portable toilet. But the Court cannot infer from the facts pleaded in the amended complaint that the two comments were aimed at plaintiff in a discriminatory manner. Moreover, the amended complaint offers no indication that the graffiti was drawn by a co-worker or directed at plaintiff.

The court concluded by observing that “[e]ssentially, plaintiff complains of a workplace that does not meet his standards for civility.” That, it noted, is insufficient, since “Title VII does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.”

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