Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Hostile Looks”, “Castigation”, “Coldness” Bow Tie Remarks Held Insufficient

In Myers v. Inspector Mary Christine Doherty et al, No. 21 Civ. 219, 2021 WL 5599502 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2021), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint alleging a race-based hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The court held that plaintiff’s amended complaint failed to clear the “low” bar for pleading a hostile work environment claim:

The following are the sole factual allegations it makes in support of a potential hostile work environment claim: (1) Doherty told Myers that he could no longer use the bathroom that Doherty and other white supervisors used; (2) Doherty castigated Myers, saying, “I see you wearing bow ties and going to De Blasio fundraisers, you think you’re something, you’re nothing;” (3) Doherty “made a point” of directing Myers “to perform non-work-related menial tasks for her;” and (4), “[o]n a daily basis,” Doherty “singled out” Myers “for harassment, giving him hostile looks but otherwise making a point of ignoring him even though she was friendly” with Myers’s white colleagues. For multiple reasons, these threadbare allegations fall well short of pleading a hostile work environment based on race. They lack the pervasiveness required of such a claim, they do not plead an alteration in the conditions of Myers’s employment, and they fail to plausibly allege that the harassment alleged derived from a protected characteristic such as race.

The Court first puts aside as ill-pled the AC’s general and conclusory allegations about unspecified menial tasks and “hostile looks.” Remaining is the allegation that Doherty made a comment belittling to Myers and embarrassed him by restricting his use of a bathroom. But such behavior, even if unpleasant, does not rise to the level of a hostile work environment, as the case law underscores. In Littlejohn [v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297 (2d Cir. 2015)], for example, the plaintiff claimed a hostile work environment based on, inter alia, “negative statements,” the impatience and “harsh tones” of her supervisor, her supervisor’s physically distancing herself from the plaintiff, declining to meet with the plaintiff, requiring the plaintiff to recreate logs, and reprimanding and using sarcasm toward the plaintiff. However, the Second Circuit held, this assembled conduct “could not support a finding of hostile work environment that is so severe or pervasive as to have altered the conditions of Littlejohn’s employment,” and therefore affirmed the dismissal of such a claim.

[Plaintiff’s amended complaint] alleges far less here. At most, it pleads Doherty’s castigation of and coldness towards Myers in the workplace, and her imposition on Myers of unspecified menial tasks, These allegations, too, fall short of the conduct pled in many cases where such claims were dismissed, and fall shorter still of that pled in cases where such claims were sustained.

[Citations omitted.]

The court rejected plaintiff’s reliance on cases where the court denied a motion for summary judgment on a hostile work environment claim.

For example, in James v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., No. 15 Civ. 6015 (PAE), 2017 WL 3923675 (S.D.N.Y. 2017), the plaintiff “testified to numerous instances of consistent harassing behavior, including being followed around the workplace, an attempted touching, specific harassing statements, sexually aggressive incidents, and even physical assault.” No such allegations were present in the instant case; to the contrary, the plaintiff here “conclusorily alleges only hostile looks and Doherty’s regular ignoring of” plaintiff.

Having dismissed plaintiff’s federal claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over, and hence dismissed, plaintiff’s claims asserted under the New York City Human Rights Law.

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