Disability-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed

In Coleman v. Time Capital Securities Corp., No. 13-17883, 2019 WL 4492880, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 32721(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, Suffolk Cty. Sep. 10, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s disability-based hostile work environment claim, asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

Generally, explained the court, “[t]o establish a hostile work environment claim based on disability under the NYSHRL, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she is considered disabled under the statute; that he or she was the subject of harassment; that the harassment was based upon his or her disability; and that the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of employment[.]”

Applying the law, the court concluded:

TCS also demonstrated its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim by submitting evidence that she was not subjected to abusive work conditions that were so pervasive, severe, or work altering, that it created a hostile working environment (see Leibovitz v New York City Transit Auth., supra; Lawson v Homenuk, 710 Fed Appx 460 [2d Cir 2017]; Skinner v City of Amsterdam, supra). Significantly, plaintiff alleges that her work environment deteriorated after she returned from surgery due to continuous accusations by her supervisors that she was addicted to pain management medication and was no longer able to perform her work effectively due to such addiction. Plaintiff recalled one meeting she had with one of TCS’s partners, Alex Rohman, where he told her that her use of pain medication was causing her to become a liability to TCS, and warned her that he would take her off the trading desk if he found out that she was taking medications that had “warning labels” on them. Plaintiff also describes a meeting she had with Richard Rohman, in which he alleged that her pain medication was causing her to become “loopy,” “loud,” and “chatty,” that physicians told him that such behaviors were a sign of addiction, and that he feared other staff would be called upon to drive her home if she came to the office while under the influence of prescription pain killers. Plaintiff testified that Richard Rohman insisted that she let him speak with her father because he was concerned **5 that she would overdose, that he pressured her until she finally relented, and that someone from TCS had called her mother and raised the fear that plaintiff had overdosed on an occasion when she overslept and could not be reached by phone.

*4 Notwithstanding plaintiff’s allegations of mistreatment, her own testimony indicates that such mistreatment fell far short of altering the conditions of her employment or creating the type of abuse and trauma associated with a hostile working environment. Plaintiff alleges only isolated incidents of purported mistreatment by her supervisors, and her testimony indicates that the comments or reprimands expressed were infrequent, mild, and often made in relation to incidents of declining performance or tardiness[.]

The court noted, for example, plaintiff’s admission that “she continued working at the trading desk for years after she returned from surgery – despite making what she regarded as minor or explainable trading errors – until she told her immediate supervisor … that she found it overwhelmingly difficult to earn how to use advanced Excel spreadsheets or perform block trading on the new block trading system being adopted by TCS” and that “she overslept and arrived late for work because an Ambien tablet got stuck in her throat, and that she continuously struggled to wean herself off daily consumption of various addictive prescriptions.”

While observing that “drug addiction may qualify as a disability under certain circumstances”, the court noted that plaintiff did not appear to alleged such a disability in her complaint. However, even if her complaint could be construed to allege such a disability, it relied on defendant’s expert’s conclusion “that plaintiff was likely addicted to her pain medication at the time of her dismissal” to determine that she “would not be entitled to such disability protection under the statute[.]”

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