Sexual Harassment / Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed Against Popular Bank

In Betances v. Popular Bank, No. 157355/2019, 2021 WL 2651094 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County June 23, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiffs’ hostile work environment sexual harassment claims under the New York City Human Rights Law.

From the decision:

To establish a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL, “the primary issue for a trier of fact in harassment cases, as in other terms and conditions cases, is whether the plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she has been treated less well than other employees because of her gender.” Williams v New York City Hous. Auth., 61 AD3d 62, 78 (1st Dept 2009). Despite the broader application of the NYCHRL, conduct that consists of “petty slights or trivial inconveniences . . . do[es] not suffice to support a hostile work environment claim.” Buchwald v Silverman Shin & Byrne PLLC, 149 AD3d 560, 560 (1st Dept 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

*10 The first cause of action states that all plaintiffs experienced sexual harassment and that defendants participated in the sexual discrimination and harassment giving rise to the claim. It is hard to discern plaintiffs’ claims as they only provide numerous pages of the same boilerplate caselaw in opposition to both dismissal motions. While plaintiffs generalize the “insidious and unlawful culture,” once plaintiffs complained about Reyes’s behavior, he was terminated. In any event, in the complaint and in opposition, plaintiffs provide limited allegations describing how defendants and various unnamed coworkers treated them after Reyes, a friend of the individual defendants, was terminated. For instance, Henriquez claims that, after Reyes was terminated “Rahman, Becerril and Rivera, who were Julio Reyes’s friends, treated her differently.” Plaintiffs’ memorandum of law at 14. Rahman, Camejo and Rivera allegedly filed false ethics complaints against Betances. Becerril turned her head away from Liriano when greeting her.

Nonetheless, plaintiffs have failed to establish how defendants’ conduct was caused by a discriminatory motive and that they treated her less well because of their gender. See Mihalik v Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F3d at 110 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (“Courts must be mindful that the NYCHRL is not a general civility code. The plaintiff still bears the burden of showing that the conduct is caused by a discriminatory motive”). Here, plaintiffs have offered no basis to conclude that defendants took actions against them based on their gender. See e.g. Whitfield-Ortiz v Department of Educ. of City of N.Y., 116 AD3d 580, 581 (1st Dept 2014) (“[p]laintiff also failed to adequately plead discriminatory animus, which is fatal to her both her discrimination and hostile environment claims”).

According to plaintiffs, employees were gossiping that Reyes was terminated because of plaintiffs and they ignored plaintiffs. Plaintiffs argue that “[i]t would be premature to declare that the indicia of discrimination and retaliation that Plaintiffs allege were merely stray marks and inconveniences, without affording Plaintiffs the opportunity to discovery whether the supposed coincidental actions were part of a culture of gender-biased animus.” However, the comments identified by plaintiffs fail to raise an inference of discriminatory animus as they are vague and do not reference any protected characteristic. See e.g. Matter of Tenenbein v New York City Dept. of Educ., 178 AD3d 510, 511 (1st Dept 2019) (Petitioner failed to state a claim under the NYCHRL as he “fails to show that any conduct or comments by respondent’s staff members were based on his alleged learning disability. The comments made by staff members did not reference his disability”). Moreover, “petty slights or trivial inconveniences,” as presented by plaintiffs, “do not suffice to support a hostile work environment claim.” Buchwald v Silverman Shin & Byrne PLLC, 149 AD3d at 560 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Based on this, the court concluded that since plaintiffs fail to sufficiently state a claim that their employer, Popular Bank, or that any other defendant engaged in sexual discrimination/harassment in violation of the NYCHRL, all defendants were entitled to dismissal of this cause of action.

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