Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Properly Dismissed; Most Conduct Was “Reasonably Expected” in the School Environment

In Langlois v. Hartford Board of Education et al, 2020 WL 6278722 (2d Cir. Oct. 27, 2020) (Summary Order), the court, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal on summary judgment of plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court wrote:

[W]e agree with the district court that a reasonable jury could not conclude that Langlois’ workplace was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult … sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her work environment.” Petrosino v. Bell Atlantic, 385 F.3d 210, 223 (2d Cir. 2004) (quotation marks and alterations omitted). First, Langlois alleges conduct that falls short of the requisite level of severity or pervasiveness necessary to establish an objectively hostile work environment. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 376-77 (2d Cir. 2002) (overturning a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff who had alleged twelve incidents contributing to her claim of a hostile work environment). Langlois offers no incident that is of a degree of severity that would give rise to a hostile work environment by itself. Cf. Howley v. Town of Stratford, 217 F.3d 141, 154 (2d Cir. 2000) (finding a valid hostile-work-environment claim where plaintiff alleged that her supervisor made one long, sexually explicit tirade against plaintiff in front of a large group). Indeed, the bulk of the conduct she complains of is reasonably expected in the school working environment: late-night emails about work-related matters, evaluations and follow-up meetings concerning work performance, criticism related to classroom management and teaching, occasional rude interactions with bosses, and placement on a performance support plan after subpar evaluations. Second, Langlois has not demonstrated that, taken together, her allegations amount to a continuous or concerted series of incidents establishing a hostile work environment. The few isolated comments allegedly made by the school principal, mentioned previously, do not meet this threshold. See Brown v. Coach Stores, Inc., 163 F.3d 706, 713 (2d Cir. 1998) (“Although the alleged comments are despicable and offensive, they fail to constitute discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to cause a hostile work environment.”). See also Clark Cnty. School Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 271 (2001) (per curiam) (“[S]imple teasing, offhand comments and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.” (quotation marks omitted)).

Based on this, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could not find that the conditions alleged by plaintiff amounted to a race-based hostile work environment and therefore that summary judgment in defendants’ favor was warranted.

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