Age-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Survive, in Part, Against the N.Y.C. Human Resources Administration

In Harris v. N.Y.C. Human Resources Administration et al, 20 Civ. 2011 (JPC), 2022 WL 3100663 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2022), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged age-based hostile work environment claims (in part) asserted under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

After summarizing the “black letter” law, the court applied it to the facts:

The only question is thus whether Harris adequately alleges an objectively hostile work environment on account of her age. The Court concludes that she does.

Roberson-Steele allegedly “loudly ordered [Harris] to retire, sometimes within earshot of other staff” on at least eight occasions between May 3 and June 6 in 2019. Someone else (unclear who) shouted that Harris was the “oldest employee in CASA.” Defendants downplay these allegations as merely “[p]eriodic and episodic incidents.” Motion at 19. To be sure, “isolated, minor acts or occasional episodes do not warrant relief.” But eight incidents in about one month is neither isolated, occasional, or episodic. Roberson-Steele’s alleged course of conduct, if true, would have constituted an unrelenting and abusive effort to pressure Harris into retirement. …

Besides disparaging remarks about her age, Harris also allegedly had to deal with “continual write ups, hostile remarks,” and Roberson-Steele’s orders for her to serve “potentially violent clients” and to supervise “incapable” subordinates, all while “peer co-workers slept with their feet upon the desk [and] read fashion magazines.” Taking the allegations together—repeated and non-discrete calls for Harris to retire, along with Roberson-Steele’s lopsided delegation of work responsibility to Harris’s detriment—the Court may reasonably infer that these occurrences were “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [Harris’s] employment and create[d] an abusive working environment.” … Because Harris has met the higher standards for her federal and state law claims, her age-based hostile work environment claim under the NYCHRL necessarily survives as well.

[Cleaned up.]

By contrast, however, the court held that plaintiff failed to allege an objectively hostile work environment at another facility to which she was transferred, finding that viewing the alleged incidents – including profanity levied at her, blaming her for an inoperative laptop, failing to respond to her, etc. – “holistically” were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an actionable hostile work environment.

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