In Wiggins v. The Garden City Golf Club, 2019 WL 6716750 (EDNY Dec. 10, 2019), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff did not make out a race-based hostile work environment claim. Plaintiff (who is black), who worked for defendant as a caddy, claimed that he was subject to discrimination when a white employee placed a “dildo” near plaintiff’s sleeping face.
While the court agreed that the alleged conduct was inappropriate, plaintiff’s case faltered, as many discrimination cases do, because plaintiff could not demonstrate that the alleged hostility was “because of” plaintiff’s membership in a protected class (here, race).
From the decision:
The plaintiff has not raised a triable issue of fact as to the existence of a race-based hostile work environment. Mr. Ouellette’s behavior was sophomoric, offensive, and disrespectful, but there is no evidence that he was motivated by racial animus. The undisputed evidence shows that although the caddies and Mr. Ouellette were grown men, they frequently behaved like adolescents; they mocked one another’s clothing and hid one another’s clothing and equipment around the yard. The evidence establishes that Mr. Ouellette did not single the plaintiff out with the dildo stunt—he did the same thing to his brother minutes before. Mr. Ouellette testified that he was joking, and the plaintiff agreed that Mr. Ouellette probably meant to be funny; the plaintiff felt that his conduct was disrespectful for an “African-American, white American, any type of American.” (Pl. Dep. 205:14-19.)
The undisputed evidence demonstrates that Mr. Ouellette targeted the plaintiff because he was sleeping, not because he is black. See Alvarado v. Nordstrom, Inc., 685 F. App’x. 4, 6 (2d Cir. 2017) (defendants’ harassing behavior towards African-American employees suggested that her behavior toward the plaintiff, a Hispanic male, was “not racially-motivated but was simply the result of her being a combative individual.”) (summary order). While the conduct was crude, it was not discriminatory.
The court concluded that the “behavior falls short of the persistent, egregiously offensive conduct found in other cases to support a hostile workplace claim”, noting that it was “not accompanied by overtly racist remarks or racial epithets” and was “not repeated or threatening.”