Gender-Based Title VII Hostile Work Environment Claim Properly Dismissed: Fifth Circuit

In Saketkoo v. Administrators of Tulane Educational Fund, 2022 WL 1183824 (C.A.5 (La.), 2022), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, inter alia, affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In this case, plaintiff’s claims primarily arise from her interactions with her supervisor Joseph Lasky. This decision, like many others, teaches that the fact that certain conduct may be “demeaning” or otherwise objectively unpleasant, that is not, standing alone, sufficient to make out an actionable discrimination claim.

From the decision:

On appeal, Dr. Saketkoo argues that Dr. Lasky’s history of demeaning conduct at the School evidences a hostile work environment and that genuine material facts remain in dispute. We disagree. Although she presented evidence that Dr. Lasky demeaned her, the district court correctly noted that the incidents described were insufficiently severe or pervasive to sustain her hostile work environment claim.

Dr. Saketkoo points our attention to sporadic and abrasive conduct over the course of four years. This includes when Dr. Lasky (1) cut her off and told her it was “not her place” to discuss the needs of the clinic; (2) flailed his arms and yelled “I’m sick of this!” when she inquired about the use of funds; (3) hovered over her and shouted “I already told you what it was!” while documenting heart catheterization results; (4) mockingly asked her if she had “danced away scleroderma,” upon which he interrupted, “We don’t need you thinking! We need you working.”; and (5) chastised her for teaching an undergraduate class, telling her to “[s]top it now!” However, we have routinely held that similarly sporadic and abrasive conduct is neither severe nor pervasive.9 And the fact that other women at the School may have experienced severe or pervasive treatment does not save Dr. Saketkoo’s claim. See Septimus, 399 F.3d at 612 (observing that alleged harassment a plaintiff did not personally experience was inadequate to render her alleged harassment severe or pervasive).

Finally, even if we assume that Dr. Lasky’s treatment of Dr. Saketkoo was severe enough to constitute harassment, her claim still fails. Although she presented evidence of his tendency to degrade her, Dr. Saketkoo did not demonstrate that his actions were based on her gender. The record shows that Dr. Lasky treated male physicians in a similarly abrasive manner and that they also complained about his behavior. The consistency of Dr. Lasky’s workplace demeanor is lamentable, but that circumstance does not supplant a plaintiff’s burden to satisfy each element of a Title VII cause of action.

Accordingly, we affirm summary judgment in favor of the Administrators on Dr. Saketkoo’s hostile work environment claim.

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