Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Evidence Included Derogatory Remarks About Chinese Food

In Kwong v. City of New York, No. 152932/2013, 2020 WL 7360816 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Dec. 15, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on his hostile work environment claims asserted under the New York State City Human Rights Laws.

The court explained:

To establish a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment, and (2) that a specific basis exists for imputing the objectionable conduct to the employer (Alfano v. Costello, 294 F3d 365, 373 [2d Cir 2002]). “Whether an environment is ‘hostile’ or ‘abusive’ can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances” (Schwapp v Town of Avon, 118 F3d 106, 110 [2d Cir 1997]).

“For racist comments, slurs, and jokes to constitute a hostile work environment, there must be more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity, meaning that instead of sporadic racial slurs, there must be a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments” (id). A combination of “seemingly minor incidents” may “form the basis of a constitutional retaliation claim once they reach a critical mass” (Deters v Lafuente, 368 F3d 185, 189 [2d Cir 2004]; see Magilton v Tocco, 379 F Supp 2d 495, 507-508 [SDNY 2005] [permitting a hostile work environment claim to go to a jury where plaintiff alleged verbal abuse and threats, false allegations and accusations of “being a troublemaker,” having complaints ignored, denial of a transfer, and being required to put in for leave when others were not]).

*6 Here, as discussed in detail above, Plaintiff has alleged more than Defendants’ benign characterization of a few remarks about Chinese food which, viewed together and in context, could be found by a jury to constitute a hostile work environment. Accordingly, the branch of Defendants’ motion seeking to dismiss the hostile work environment claims is denied.

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