Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Survive Summary Judgment Against Con Edison; Slavery Comment Cited

In Grimes-Jenkins v. Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., 2021 WL 1226658 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2021), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. (I wrote about the court’s denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claims here.)

As to plaintiff’s claims under federal and state law, the court explained:

A reasonable jury crediting Plaintiff’s claims concerning the use of the phrase “into the fields” could find that Plaintiff’s work environment was objectively hostile based on her race. Plaintiff testified that Galloza and McEnery referred to white employees as “going to the field” or “on the job,” but referred to Black employees as “going to the fields” or being “thrown back into the fields.” Pl. Dep. at 234:16–235:24. She contends that the use of the plural word, “fields” as opposed to “field” has a clear racial connotation that harks back to slavery. SAC ¶ 28. Plaintiff testified that on several occasions Galloza told Plaintiff that if she kept requesting transfers, he was going to “throw [her] back into the fields.” Pl. Dep. at 233:14–19. On other occasions, Galloza similarly told her that if she made another complaint, they were “going to throw [her] back into the fields.” Id. at 278:12–20. She also heard Galloza tell another Black employee that Galloza would be “throwing him back into the fields.” Id. at 241:6–23. On a different occasion, McEnery told her that she “need[ed] to … come out into the fields and do the work like field people have to do and work in the good fields like back in the day.” Id. at 233:25–234:7. The Court rejects Defendant’s contention that this episodic conduct fails to establish a hostile work environment. Def. Mem. at 13–14. Plaintiff posits that these words were directed at Black employees during her 27 years of employment at ConEd. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 82. Thus, the manner in which the phrase was used raises a triable issue of fact about whether it was objectively “intimidating, humiliating, or insulting,” such that it created a hostile work environment because of Plaintiff’s race. Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 374 (2d Cir. 2002).

Furthermore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has adduced evidence that she subjectively perceived the environment to be abusive. She testified that the phrase was directed against her in a threatening manner, and that she complained about its racial undertones. Pl. Dep. at 246:16–20. Thus, the subjective element of the hostile work environment claim is also satisfied. Harris, 510 U.S. at 22.

Having held that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s federal and state law claims, it was not entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim under the comparatively broader New York City Human Rights Law.

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