Spanish Ethnicity/Ancestry/National Origin Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Against Quinn, Emanuel Law Firm

In Mondelo v. Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP et al, 21-cv-02512, 2022 WL 524551 (SDNY Feb. 22, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s Spanish Ethnicity/Ancestry/National Origin-based hostile work environment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Among other things, plaintiff, who worked for defendant as an IT manager, alleged (among other things) that the individual defendant (the law firm’s Chief Information Officer) called him a racial slur (“spic”), and made it “difficult or impossible” for plaintiff to do his job.

Initially, the court cited and applied the “continuing violation doctrine”, which (when applicable) permits consideration of conduct that is technically outside the applicable statute of limitations.

On that point, the court explained:

Mondelo has alleged that at least one act which contributed to the hostile work environment occurred within the limitations period. For example, Plaintiff alleges that in the spring of 2019, Mr. Eskanos targeted Mr. Mondelo by forcing him to roll out a new Windows operating systems that Mr, Eskanos knew had serious issues and would cause major disruption in the New York office, while allowing the London IT Director, who is not Hispanic, to pause the London office rollout. Am. Compl ¶¶ 54-58.

So Plaintiff has pleaded a least one act that occurred within the limitations period. And “because the continuing-violation exception is applied in the same way whether the claim is under federal, state, or city law,” all of Mondelo’s hostile work environment claims are timely.

As to the merits of plaintiff’s § 1981 claim, the court explained:

While “even a single episode of harassment, if severe enough, can establish a hostile work environment,” Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 437 (2d Cir.1999), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), I might agree with Defendants if that were all that Plaintiff alleges. But it is not. Mondelo alleges that Eskanos exhibited a pattern of continuous harassment and disparate treatment extending over a period of years. He alleges that Eskanos made his job harder by setting unreasonable deadlines, denying overtime, and denying travel requests. And he contends, using examples, that Eskanos treated Mondelo’s non-Hispanic counterparts differently (and better) than he treated Mondelo, and did not interfere with their ability to do their jobs in the same way he did with Mondelo. Mr. Mondelo alleges that he, the only Hispanic IT director, was the only director excluded from weekly department meetings. It does not matter that not all of the alleged conduct was explicitly discriminatory: Second Circuit “case law is clear that when the same individuals engage in some harassment that is explicitly discriminatory and some that is not, the entire course of conduct is relevant to a hostile work environment claim.” Rasmy v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., 952 F.3d 379, 388 (2d Cir. 2020).

Mondelo need only allege hostility pervasive enough that reasonable people would consider their working conditions to be altered as a result. And I conclude that reasonable people would consider their working conditions to be altered if Mondelo were able to prove what he alleges – which is that Eskanos made it difficult or impossible for Plaintiff to do his job effectively in a variety of ways. Other courts sitting in this Circuit have agreed. See Pucino v. Verizon Commc’ns, Inc., 618 F.3d 112, 115 (2d Cir. 2010) (hostile work environment found based on, inter alia, supervisor denied plaintiff tools which “made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to perform her work properly”); Spence v. Bukofzer, No. 15 CIV. 6167 (ER), 2017 WL 1194478, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2017) (allegations that plaintiff was excluded from work meetings, received unfavorable assignments, was demoted, and complained internally about a racially hostile environment “plausibly describes an objectively hostile work environment that could have reasonably interfered with her ability to work”).

The court rejected defendants’ argument that he did not allege that the hostile work environment was motivated by animus towards plaintiff as a result of his membership in a protected class, explaining:

Plaintiff “can raise an inference of a discriminatory motive in a number of ways, including by … pleading specific facts suggesting that other, similarly situated employees outside of the plaintiff’s protected class were treated better than the plaintiff” Rothbein v. City of New York, No. 18-CV-5106 (VEC), 2019 WL 977878, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2019). And Plaintiff did precisely that. Specifically, he alleges that Eskanos exhibited animosity towards Plaintiff on the basis of his race and national origin by excluding him from meetings, refusing to approve his order requests, refusing overtime requests for Plaintiff’s staff, and by requiring Plaintiff submit detailed justifications for travel only to (mostly) deny Plaintiff’s travel requests. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-34 35-36, 38-40. And according to the allegations, Eskanos’s conduct was not facially neutral because Eskanos did not treat Plaintiff’s non-Hispanic counterparts the same way. He alleges that Eskanos demoted him from his job as a regional manager and stripped him of his regional responsibilities, and then replaced Plaintiff with a non-Hispanic person. Id. ¶¶ 46-50. Mondelo also alleges that Eskanos forced Plaintiff to prematurely roll out anew operating system and denied Plaintiff access to technical support, while, at the same time, Eskanos did not force Plaintiff’s non-Hispanic counterparts in London to do the same. Id. ¶¶ 58-64. The facts as alleged raise an inference of discriminatory motive.

The court concluded that plaintiff’s allegations of disparate treatment, and the use of an explicit, racial slur to describe him were enough to sufficiently allege a hostile work environment claim under § 1981.

For essentially the same reasons, the court held that plaintiff also stated hostile work environment claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

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