Hostile Work Environment Claims Properly Dismissed; “Sporadic Conflicts” Insufficient

In Knope v. Merrick B. Garland et al, 20-cv-3274, 2021 WL 5183536 (2d Cir. Nov. 9, 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s sex- and disability-based hostile work claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act, respectively. (I discussed the court’s affirming the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim here.)

The law, as summarized by the court:

To prevail on a hostile environment claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that a workplace is so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of her employment were thereby altered, as well as a specific basis for imputing the challenged conduct to the employer. The elements of a hostile work environment claim are the same under the ADA, and thus, the Rehabilitation Act. An employee must prove both objective and subjective elements of her claim. First, the employee must prove the objective requirement, i.e., that the employer created an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive. Second, the employee must prove the subjective requirement, i.e., that the employee subjectively perceived the employer’s conduct as hostile or abusive. Finally, the employee must demonstrate a causal element: that the employer created a hostile environment because of a protected characteristic. [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]

Applying the law to the facts, the court explained:

Knope’s sporadic conflicts over nearly four years with her supervisors about her hours and work responsibilities are insufficient under the circumstances present here, even if true, to establish a hostile work environment. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d. 365, 374 (2d. Cir. 2002) (“As a general rule, incidents must be more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive,” although “even a single act can meet the threshold if, by itself, it can and does work a transformation of the plaintiff’s workplace.”). To the extent that Knope also alleges that the reasonable accommodation process with the USAO WDNY was itself hostile such that she was “subjected to intimidation on a daily basis,” this also fails to establish a hostile work environment because no rational jury could find that the accommodation negotiations were of such a hostile nature that they altered the conditions of Knope’s work environment. [Citations and internal quotation marks and parenthetical notations omitted.]

Based on this, the court concluded that summary judgment was warranted on plaintiffs’ hostile work environment claims.

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