Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Sufficiently Alleged Against JPMorgan Chase Bank Under the NYS and NYC Human Rights Law

In Wilson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., et al, 20-cv-4558, 2021 WL 5179914 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 8, 2021), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently (i.e., plausibly) alleged a race-based hostile work environment under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

Beginning with the City Law, the court explained:

[Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint] plausibly alleges that she was treated less well “at least in part because of” her race. Mihalik, 715 F.3d at 110 (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, as JPMorgan itself concedes, the SAC alleges numerous incidents of “explicit, ‘overt’ race-based conduct” in support of her hostile work environment claims. Def.’s Mem. 12; see also id. at 10, 12-13; Def.’s Reply 1, 4. Most notably, these allegations include being referred to as the “ ‘African American Barbie’ in the executive wing,” SAC ¶ 36; “routinely” hearing her supervisors “refer to African Americans as ‘those people,’ ” including on one occasion where her supervisor said, “those people think they can go to Yale and Harvard and it will change who they are and it won’t,” id. ¶¶ 36-37; being reprimanded by her supervisor after allowing another African American co-worker to visit the executive wing, and being told, “[Y]ou need to leave those people downstairs…. [Y]ou are not like them and that is why you are up here. If you want to grow within JPMorgan you need to leave them where they are[,]” id. ¶¶ 47-48; and repeated use of the n-word by a non-African American co-worker within Wilson’s earshot despite Wilson’s protests, id. ¶¶ 59-64. In addition, the SAC alleges instances of disparate treatment and implicitly racially motivated harassment. For instance, Wilson had to undergo stringent security protocols in the executive wing that non-African American assistants were not required to follow. See SAC ¶¶ 39-43. And she was told by the Chair of JPMorgan’s Board of Director’s Audit Committee at a Fireside Chat that JPMorgan’s “non-African American Analysts, Managers, Vice Presidents and Managing Directors on the whole view African Americans as thieves, drug dealers or a threat [of] physical violence.” Id. ¶ 56.

Taken together, these allegations of both overt and implicitly race-based harassment easily satisfy Wilson’s burden to plead sufficient facts to “show that her employer treated her less well, at least in part for a discriminatory reason.” Mihalik, 715 F.3d at 110 n.8; see, e.g., Modica v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., No. 20-CV-4834 (JMF), 2021 WL 3408587, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2021) (holding that supervisor having allegedly “ridiculed” plaintiff in a mediation meeting “on the basis of her disability” was “enough to plead a plausible NYCHRL hostile work environment claim”); Sanderson v. Leg Apparel LLC, No. 19-CV-8423 (GHW), 2020 WL 7342742, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2020) (holding that allegations about a supervisor making three comments about plaintiff’s perceived sexual orientation to “embarrass” him and “diminish [his] success” were enough to state a NYCHRL hostile work environment claim); Shukla v. Deloitte Consulting LLP, No. 19-CV-10578 (AJN) (SDA), 2020 WL 3181785, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2020) (holding that a single comment that the plaintiff was an “expendable Indian” at a time when he was being removed from a project was sufficient to state a claim that he was treated less well as a result of his race or national origin); see also Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1997) (noting that “a racially derogatory comment” or “racial epithet need not be directed at a plaintiff in order to contribute to a hostile work environment”); Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 114 (2d Cir. 2007) (“[A] plaintiff need only allege that she suffered a hostile work environment because of her [protected characteristic], not that all of the offensive conduct was specifically aimed at her.”). Accordingly, JPMorgan’s motion to dismiss Wilson’s hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL must be and is denied.

The court reached the same conclusion with respect to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim under the State Law, holding, inter alia, that “the conduct discussed above — including the persistent racially derogatory comments directed at Wilson and other non-African Americans and the repeated use of the n-word in Wilson’s presence despite her protests — were ‘severe and pervasive’ enough that a reasonable person would find the conduct hostile or abusive.” [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted; cleaned up.]

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