Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Allegations of “Burdensome” Work Schedule, Swearing, and Thrown Phone Held Insufficient

In Kalarickal v. Denis McDonough, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, 20-cv-10249, 2021 WL 5112907 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 3, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on the basis of his age, color, disability, national origin, race, and religion.

This case illustrates that a “hostile work environment” does not exist merely by virtue of allegedly “unpleasant” circumstances.

The court explained:

Kalarickal pleads four separate bases for his hostile work environment claim: “harassment” by De Marco, Russ, and Campaneli, and assignment to a burdensome work schedule by the VA. The claims related to his work schedule fail. “[C]omplaints about work assignments are not generally sufficient to state a hostile work environment claim,” Farsetta, 2017 WL 3669561, at *7. And even if such complaints could serve as a basis for a hostile work environment claim, Kalarickal has not alleged facts connecting his burdensome work assignments to discrimination due to one of his protected characteristics.

Similarly, Kalarickal’s allegations related to De Marco do not state a hostile work environment claim. He alleges in conclusory fashion that De Marco failed to cover his breaks because of “racial discrimination.” But he does not allege any specific facts tending to show that De Marco was, in fact, motivated by racial discrimination. He does not, for instance, allege that De Marco made disparaging remarks about Kalarickal’s race.

His claims related to the conduct of Russ and Campaneli also fail. These claims each stem from a single isolated incident –- the February 21, 2016 report by Campaneli and the March 13, 2016 incident in which Russ threw a phone and swore at Kalarickal. Generally, to give rise to a hostile work environment claim, the incidents complained of “must be more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.” Agosto, 982 F.3d at 102 (citation omitted). “A single incident may qualify, but to do so it must be extraordinarily severe.” Id. The Campaneli and Russ incidents were neither continuous nor sufficiently severe as to give rise to a hostile work environment claim. See Agosto, 982 F.3d 103 (holding that even minor physical contact does not meet the “extraordinarily severe” standard for single-incident hostile work environment claims).

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