Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed; Allegations of Mocking Accent, “Micro-Aggressions”, and Push Out of Office Insufficient

In Boncoeur v. Haverstrap-Stony Point Central School District et al, 20-CV-10923, 2022 WL 845770 (S.D.N.Y. March 22, 2022), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim(s).

This case is yet another example of how a work environment that is “hostile” in the dictionary sense is not necessarily a “hostile work environment” under the anti-discrimination laws.

After summarizing the black-letter law, the court explained:

Here, Plaintiff’s allegations are similar to those in Littlejohn and Isbell. For example, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied overtime; that Sira mocked Plaintiff’s accent through “facial gestures and shaking of her head” and allegedly falsely claimed not to understand Plaintiff; that Sira accused Plaintiff of failing to do tasks that he had already performed and accused Plaintiff of failing to do tasks that she knew were not “within Plaintiff’s work purview”; that Plaintiff received a “negative counseling memo”, and that Defendants did not initially provide him with a laptop to enable him to work from home. Like in Littlejohn and Isbell these types of allegations are insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

Similarly, Plaintiff’s contention that he was subjected to an unspecified “spate of micro-aggressions,” is insufficient to plausibly allege a hostile work environment claim. See Murray v. Dutchess Cty. Exec. Branch, No. 17-CV-9121, 2019 WL 4688602, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2019) (dismissing plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim despite his allegation that he suffered multiple, specified “micro-inequities”); Ariz, 2019 WL 2613476, at *6 (dismissing plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim despite his allegations that he was subjected to unspecified micro-aggressions and two-race based comments made by a coworker).

Even Plaintiff’s claim that Senno physically pushed him out of his office is insufficient to support a claim for hostile work environment. As one court noted, “[c]ourts rarely find limited incidents of physical violence without a sexual element to establish a hostile work environment.” De La Pena, 953 F. Supp. 2d 393, 417 (E.D.N.Y. 2013), aff’d, 552 F. App’x 98 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Gerald v. Locksley, 849 F. Supp. 2d 1190, 1234 (D.N.M. 2011)); see also Divers v. Metropolitan Jewish Health Systems, No. 06-CV-6704, 2009 WL 103703, at *16 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 14, 2009) (noting that the plaintiff’s allegations of physical contact were not sufficient to support a hostile work environment claim because “it was an isolated occurrence”), aff’d, 383 Fed. App’x. 34 (2d Cir. 2010); Aina v. City of New York, No. 05-CV-7533, 2007 WL 401391, at *1, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2007) (dismissing a hostile work environment claim after the court concluded that the “isolated” incident, which involved a supervisor “slam[ing] the door in such a violent manner that it almost hit [plaintiff’s] knee” did not support a cause of action.); Ricks v. Conde Nast Publications, Inc., 92 F. Supp. 2d 338, 348 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (holding that an allegation that a defendant hit the plaintiff on the shoulder and pushed her out of her office was insufficiently severe to establish a hostile work environment claim), aff’d, 6 Fed. App’x. 74 (2d Cir. 2001).

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded by noting that plaintiff failed to “establish causation—namely, that the conduct that Plaintiff claims created a hostile environment was the result of his race, nationality, or age. Plaintiff makes no allegations establishing a connection between the alleged hostile environment and his protected characteristics” where plaintiff’s “allegations are wholly conclusory.”

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