Sexual Harassment Claims Sufficiently Alleged, Based on Rejection of Supervisor’s Alleged Sexual Advances

In Friederick v. Passfeed, Inc., Attila Sary et al, 21-cv-2066, 2022 WL 992798 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2022), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged quid pro quo sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

In sum, plaintiff (who worked as a social media manager for defendant) alleged that her supervisor (defendant Sary) made sexual advances towards her, and that she suffered work-related consequences following her rejection of those advances.

This is from the court’s summary of plaintiff’s allegations:

On April 24, Sary texted Friederick “Lunch?” to which she did not respond. Later that afternoon, he asked her whether she wanted to pretend to have a work meeting on April 26, but instead go with him to a museum during work hours. Specifically, he told her: “The MOMA is close to the office. We should fake going to a PR meeting and go to the museum instead. Dress up more than you usually do.” When Plaintiff responded that she didn’t know about that, he “became angry” and said “I want to take advantage of the situation since [Defendant Wang] is out of town.” While Plaintiff “had no intention of going to the MOMA” with him, she told him that she would think about it.

According to Plaintiff, because at that point it had become clear that she was not interested in having a romantic or sexual relationship with Sary, he began retaliating against her. On April 25, the day after Sary asked her to go to the MOMA, Plaintiff presented a work project to him. Sary refused to look at it and ignored her throughout the day. Later that afternoon, Plaintiff text messaged Sary saying: “You are literally one of the most difficult and frustrating people to work with. So rude and disrespectful. I will not be going to any phony meeting with you. It makes me uncomfortable. I’m really not sure that I can continue to work here with you when you continue to undermine my work and position.” Sary did not respond to this text message.

Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Sary “routinely yelled” “Blow me” at her. He also muttered “Fuck you” under his breath at her, and “raised his middle finger at her while pretending to scratch his face.”

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Plaintiff additionally alleged, among other things, that following her complaint to HR, the company terminated her.

After explaining the black-letter law of hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment, the court applied the law to the facts:

Plaintiff has plausibly alleged a claim of discrimination based on quid pro quo sexual harassment under Title VII and the NYSHRL because she has adequately pled that Sary, her supervisor, used her rejection of his advances as the basis for a decision affecting the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of her job.

Friederick has detailed Sary’s many unwelcome advances, which she repeatedly refused. Once it became clear that she was not interested in him, he took several actions which—drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, as the Court must at this stage—support a claim that he was making decisions about her work based on her rejection of him. For example, the day after Friederick did not accept Sary’s invitation to go to the museum with him, he allegedly refused to look at a work project that she presented to him and ignored her for the remainder of the day. He later reassigned one of her writing assignments to another Passfeed employee while she was out to lunch, telling her that “writing is not [her] job,” despite Plaintiff’s assertion that she routinely wrote content for Passfeed. At this stage, it is plausible to infer that Friederick’s rejection of Sary formed the basis for decisions that affected the terms of her job at Passfeed—specifically the change in her job responsibilities and his refusal to review her work. Because Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that some aspects of her job were conditioned on her response to her supervisor’s unwelcome advances, the Court finds that she has stated a claim of quid pro quo discrimination under Title VII and the NYSHRL.

These facts also support a claim of discrimination under the NYCHRL because Sary’s behavior toward her following her rejection of him shows that Friederick “was treated less well because of a discriminatory intent.”

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As for imputing liability, the court held that plaintiff has stated a claim for quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment against her corporate employer (Passfeed) under Title VII and the NYCHRL (as the alleged harasser, Sary, was her supervisor), but that she did not state a claim under the NYSHRL, since she alleged insufficient evidence to establish that Passfeed had prior knowledge of the sexual harassment and acted in a way that amounted to a “calculated inaction” indicating that Passfeed “condoned” it.

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