Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claims Dismissed, as Time-Barred, Against Former ABC Producer Michael Corn

In Kirstyn Crawford v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc., No. 157874/2021, 2022 WL 2066925 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County June 08, 2022), the court granted individual defendant Michael Corn’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claims, asserted under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws, as time-barred.

Plaintiff (an ABC producer) alleged, inter alia, that during a 2015 work-related trip to Los Angeles, Corn “assaulted her by grabbing her hand, rubbing and kissing the top of her head, petting her hair, and stroking her arms and legs;” engaged in rude, demeaning, and bullying conduct; pressured the staff (including plaintiff) to go out drinking; and engaged plaintiff in “inappropriate conversations, including about the intimate details of his marriage and plaintiff’s personal life.”

As to the time-bar issue, the court explained:

Here, assuming that the COVID-19 toll extended the commencement of the pertinent limitations period to January 19, 2018 (Vivar v BSREP UA River Crossing LLC, 2021 WL 5014488, 2021 NY Slip Op 32153[U] [Sup Ct, New York County, Jaffe, J] [Executive Order 202.8 and extensions tolled CPLR time limitations including that to commence an action, from March 20, 2020 through November 3, 2020], citing Brash v Richards, 195 AD3d 582 [2d Dept 2021]), plaintiff alleges no instances of conduct by Corn sufficiently similar to his assault on her in 2015, as it is undisputed that Corn never again made sexual advances toward her or touched or attempted to touch her (see Irrera v Humpherys, 695 Fed Appx 626 [2d Cir 2017] [no continuing violation where unwanted sexual touching occurred in 2010 and 2011, and allegedly sexual facial expressions, including sporadic winks, leers, and blown kisses, occurred between 2012 and 2014 as such conduct constituted discrete acts of harassment]; Mejia v T.N. 888 Eighth Ave. LLC Co., 169 AD3d 613 [1st Dept 2019] [in support of hostile work environment claim, plaintiff cited one alleged time-barred incident involving sexual jokes, groping, and suggestions that plaintiff go to motel with coworker, and although she alleged that she was regularly exposed to such conduct thereafter, she offered no specific facts or dates]).

Moreover, no post-January 2018 incident detailed by plaintiff in her opposition constitutes a sexually harassing act. Rather, discrete and isolated instances of misconduct are listed. Corn’s pressure on plaintiff to go out drinking with him is non-sexual in nature, as is his subsequent belittling of her when she refused. His behavior in making fun of the rape allegations leveled against Donald Trump, making personal or gender-disparaging comments about female employees, undermining a female’s employee’s job prospects, sending a demeaning email about women having companions while giving birth, and cutting off a female employee while she was speaking, all constitute discrete and isolated events that, while boorish, ill-advised, and inappropriate, do not create a hostile work environment, much less a continuing violation. Much of the conduct, moreover, was not directed at plaintiff. And the allegations that Corn flirted with plaintiff, uttered sexual innuendos to her, and referenced intimate details about his marriage, are vague and conclusory, absent any detail as to the dates or actual comments made.

Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim is thus time-barred. (See e.g., Campbell v New York City Dept. of Educ., 200 AD3d 488 [1st Dept 2021] [claims based on conduct occurring three years before plaintiff’s termination barred as plaintiff did not sufficiently allege facts showing “ ‘a single continuing pattern of unlawful conduct extending into the (limitations) period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint’ but rather discrete events, involving different actors, and occurring months to years apart.”] [citations omitted]).

Having dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims against defendant Corn, the court struck, as no longer relevant to her remaining claims against ABC, plaintiff’s allegations related to Corn’s alleged sexual assault of another female employee.

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