Hostile Work Environment Claims Sufficiently Alleged; Despite Lack of “Egregious” Conduct, Plaintiff Alleged Supervisor’s “Growing Frustration”

In a recent case, Gueye v. H & S Bakery, Inc. et al, Civil Action No. 22-2612, 2022 WL 2805636 (D.N.J. July 15, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s age- and disability-based hostile work environment.

From the decision:

Here, Plaintiff, a plant superintendent, alleges that he was forced to take approximately one week of medical leave in December 2020 after he was hospitalized for vertigo. When he returned to work, Plaintiff alleges that Colli’s attitude towards him became “very cold and negative,” and he stopped communicating with Plaintiff. Further, Colli began making age-based comments about Plaintiff to other employees, stating that “it was time for [Plaintiff] to retire.”

Colli was promoted to Vice President in April 2021. Around this time, Colli took away some of Plaintiff’s responsibilities, gave some of the responsibilities to a younger employee, cut Plaintiff out of the line of communication, and made “detrimental changes” to Plaintiff’s work schedule. Plaintiff further alleges that Colli continued to make comments to other employees about Plaintiff’s age and that Plaintiff would retire soon.

Plaintiff took a second medical leave for vertigo from August 9, 2021, to August 16, 2021. After his return to work, Plaintiff was allegedly forced to fill in for absent supervisors causing him to cover multiple shifts at different times, sometimes working for sixteen straight hours. At the end of the month, Plaintiff requested that Colli hire a supervisor so that Plaintiff could return to his duties as Plant Superintendent. Colli allegedly became irate and told Plaintiff that he was “tired of his excuses.” Moreover, other employees continued to tell Plaintiff that Colli was telling them that Plaintiff was old, “on his way out,” and “not good for this job anymore.” On Monday, December 6, 2021, Colli allegedly stated to Plaintiff words to the effect of “this past summer you went out on sick leave and the place went to sh**,” then terminated Plaintiff. The same day, Colli promoted a younger employee to replace Plaintiff.

Viewing Plaintiff’s allegations in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, and as a whole, Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to state a plausible hostile work environment claim based on his age and alleged disability. Although Plaintiff does not allege egregious comments or statements, his allegations demonstrate growing frustration from a supervisor based on Plaintiff’s age and/or absence from work that allegedly impacted Plaintiff’s hours and responsibilities. This is sufficient to plausibly plead hostile work environment claims. See Hayes v. Del. State. Univ., 726 F. Supp.2d 441, 455 (D. Del. 2010) (concluding that plaintiff stated a Title VII hostile work environment claim where although there were no allegations of direct comments about the capacity of women employees or off-color jokes, plaintiff sufficiently paints a picture of a pervasive atmosphere of discriminatory intimidation towards women, particularly with respect to among other things the continual lessening of plaintiff’s duties, and the allegedly hostile and abusive attitude of plaintiff’s supervisor.); see also Carroll v. Sunrise Detox Cherry Hill, LLC, No. 19-17287, 2020 WL 4218409, at *8-9 (D.N.J. July 22, 2020) (concluding that the plaintiff stated a plausible hostile work environment claim under the LAD where the plaintiff’s supervisor told her she needed to come back to work while on medical leave, made her feel guilty for taking leave, refused to accommodate her medical condition and wrote her up for related tardiness, and the plaintiff was ultimately terminated after discussing her need for accommodations).

Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot state a hostile work environment claim because the alleged wrongful comments were not physically threatening or humiliating. While such comments can form a basis for a hostile work environment claim, they are not required.

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded that plaintiff “alleges sufficient facts, when viewed as a whole, to plead hostile work environment claims.”

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