Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Dismissal

In Nagaraj v. Sandata Technologies, LLC, 2020 WL 6482194 (EDNY Nov. 4, 2020), the court adopted a Magistrate Judge’s Report & Recommendation finding that plaintiff may proceed on his claim of  a hostile work environment based on race discrimination culminating in a constructive discharge.

This decision is instructive on the scope of a federal statute, 42 U.S.C. 1891, which generally prohibits discrimination based on race (but not national origin). Here, the court notes that such issues may often be interrelated.

In sum, plaintiff alleged, among other things, that his supervisors (white males) verbally harassed and targeted him on the basis of his South Asian race by, for example, accusing him of being an “Arab terrorist” and asking plaintiff “why his people blow themselves up.”

From the decision:

Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s Section 1981 claim based on a theory of hostile work environment should be rejected because the allegations of discrimination are based on national origin and not race. (Obj. at 4-6.) Judge Shields found that “Plaintiff’s claim that Duci subjected him to a hostile work environment by calling him derogatory names and ridiculing the way he speaks clearly falls within the realm of a Section 1981 race discrimination claim” because “Section 1981 has been held to encompass ‘discrimination based on ancestry or ethnic characteristics as well.’ ” (R&R at 10 (quoting Anderson v. Conboy, 156 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 1998)). Although Defendant attempts to conclusively establish that certain conduct or phrases constitute national origin discrimination (and not race discrimination), “race and national origin claims may overlap, and ‘the line between discrimination on account of race and discrimination on account of national origin may be so thin as to be indiscernible.’ ” Delly v. H.I.R.E. Inc., No. 04-CV-1481, 2004 WL 2297821, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2004) (quoting Adames v. Mitsubishi Bank, Ltd., 751 F. Supp. 1548, 1558–9 (S.D.N.Y. 1990)). Thus, “[b]ecause of the often subtle overlap of race and national origin, however, [the Court] cannot say, as a matter of law, that some portion of the discrimination that [Plaintiff] allegedly faced was not based upon race.” Id. at *7 (citing Adames for the proposition that “parties should have opportunity to offer evidence when tracing the demarcation between race and national origin”). Accordingly, the Court agrees with Judge Shields that “there is enough alleged to survive a motion to dismiss the claim of a hostile work environment” based, at least in part, upon race discrimination. See also Nwachukwu v. Liberty Bank, No. 16-CV-0704, 2017 WL 5013231, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 2, 2017) (denying motion to dismiss Section 1981 claim noting that “discrimination based upon national origin alone cannot support a claim … [b]ut what Plaintiff alleges here is a form of racial discrimination informed by prejudice towards African-Americans of Nigerian Origin”) (emphasis in original)); see id. at *3 (collecting cases). Defendant’s objections are therefore OVERRULED.

The court also rejected defendant’s argument that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that plaintiff alleged “severe and pervasive” conduct, noting that “a plaintiff need not prove all elements of a hostile work environment claim at the pleading stage” and that “to avoid dismissal under FRCP 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need only plead facts sufficient to support the conclusion that she or he was faced with harassment of such quality or quantity that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her or his employment altered for the worse.” (Internal quotation marks and formatting altered/omitted).

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