Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Survive Summary Judgment Against Dental Practice

In Qorrolli v. Metropolitan Dental Associates, D.D.S. – 225 Broadway, P.C. et al, No. 18-cv-6836, 2021 WL 6064520 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 2021), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s sex-based hostile work environment (sexual harassment) claims.

Plaintiff (a dental hygienist) asserts, in sum and among other things, that the male office manager asserted that she was subjected to sexual advances and harassment (including touching and comments on her appearance), that she complained, and that no action was taken in response to her statement taht she would not give into the sexual advances in order to make him stop harassing her.

In finding that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to overcome summary judgment, the court explained:

Qorrolli asserts that the defendants engaged in sex discrimination by subjecting her to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL. The defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on these claims because Qorrolli has not produced any witnesses or documents to corroborate her allegations about Orantes’ comments and sexual advances, and because Orantes’ conduct is insufficient to establish a hostile work environment. This motion is denied.

“The standards for evaluating hostile work environment … claims are identical under [federal law] and the NYSHRL.” Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Assocs. Consulting Engineers, P.C., 716 F.3d 10, 14 (2d Cir. 2013). To prove that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct “(1) is objectively severe or pervasive — that is, creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s sex.” Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). A workplace is objectively hostile when it is “so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of his or her employment were thereby altered.” Agosto v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., 982 F.3d 86, 101 (2d Cir. 2020) (citation omitted).

Defendants argue that summary judgment should be granted because Qorrolli relies only on her testimony to support her claims of Orantes’ repeated abuse.3 Qorrolli’s testimony is sufficient to raise a genuine dispute of material fact about the existence and pervasiveness of Orantes’ harassment. To the extent that the defendants contend that Qorrolli’s testimony should not be believed, her credibility must be tested at trial. See Green v. Town of E. Haven, 952 F.3d 394, 406 (2d Cir. 2020) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

Defendants also argue that Qorrolli cannot prevail on her hostile work environment claims because, even taking the alleged facts as true, the instances of unwanted sexual advances and touching were not sufficiently severe or pervasive. Qorrolli’s testimony, taken in the light most favorable to her, is sufficient to raise triable issues about whether Orantes’ sexualized remarks and touching were so pervasive and abusive that they altered her working conditions.

The court then turned to evaluate plaintiff’s claims under the New York City Human Rights Law. Claims under that statute, the court explained, must be analyzed “separately and independently from any federal and state law claims” because the NYCHRL is to be construed “broadly in favor of discrimination plaintiffs, to the extent that such a construction is reasonably possible.”

Moreover, “[t]o prevail on a hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL, [plaintiff] need only show differential treatment – that [she] is treated less well — because of a discriminatory intent.” [Internal quotation makrs omitted.] Accordingly, since summary judgment was denied under the stricter standards of Title, denial was also warranted under the NYCHRL.

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