Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Conduct by Subordinate Employee Held Insufficient

In Milord-Francois v. The New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General et al, 2020 WL 5659438 (SDNY Sept. 23, 2020), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Court explained that plaintiff’s hostile work environment “claim turns on the legal question whether the episodic conduct of a single subordinate can give rise to a hostile work environment claim by a more senior employee.” While noting that “the conduct of a low-level or subordinate employee can – if sufficiently severe or pervasive – create a hostile work environment,” it answered this question in the negative, at least based on the facts here.

After summarizing the legal standard for a hostile work environment, the court summarized plaintiff’s evidence:

The claim is based on the conduct of a single subordinate employee, Henzel, over approximately a one-year period. During that period, Henzel made one comment that was objectively racial in nature—on July 10, 2015, she said that Plaintiff had an “angry black face.” Beyond that, Plaintiff complains only of the following:

1. On one occasion, in Plaintiff’s presence (but not directed toward her), Henzel expressed concern that she (Henzel) might be “killed” while attending a funeral in Harlem;

2. On another occasion, Henzel asked Plaintiff if she was going into an office to get drugs, and repeated to co-workers that Plaintiff might have a drug problem;

3. On another occasion, Henzel, outside of Plaintiff’s presence, threatened to call security or the police on Mandel;

4. On yet another occasion, Henzel stated that Plaintiff “speak[s] well” but that Henzel “could do a better job.”

In addition, Plaintiff offered the generalized testimony that Henzel “continuously” called her “angry face” and “scary face” in the relevant time period.

The court held that while plaintiff’s interactions with Helzel “bespeak an acrimonious relationship between” them, “they do not suffice to create a triable issue that there was a hostile work environment under Title VII.”

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