CUNY Professor’s Religion-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissal Affirmed

In Lax v. The City University of New York, 20-3906-cv, 2022 WL 103315 (2d Cir. Jan. 11, 2022), the court, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim of a religion-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

In order to establish a hostile work environment claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must produce enough evidence to show that the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Courts consider the totality of the circumstances, including: the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with the victim’s job performance.

Here, Lax has not adduced evidence of harassment or discrimination that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to rise to the level of a hostile work environment. He bases his claim primarily on incidents involving Suss’s comments to other faculty members that he heard about after the fact. While evidence of harassment directed at other co-workers can be relevant to an employee’s own claim of hostile work environment discrimination, Lax has not pointed to evidence apart from his own conclusory statements demonstrating the frequency of any harassment—including harassment suffered by his co-workers. And while Lax also seeks to premise his hostile work environment claim on CUNY’s alleged failure to investigate his complaints against Suss, a “failure to investigate does not by itself alter the terms and conditions of employment and thus could not itself have contributed to or constituted a hostile work environment.

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded that, as a result, plaintiff “has not established that discrimination or harassment so permeated his workplace as to create a hostile work environment.”

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