Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment and Constructive Discharge Claims, Asserted Under the Equal Protection Clause, Survive Summary Judgment

In Doe v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections et al, No. 4:19-CV-01584, 2022 WL 3219952 (M.D.Pa. Aug. 9, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims asserted under the Equal Protection Clause.

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court explained:

Here, Doe testified that “[f]rom the moment that [he] had disclosed [his] intent to transition until the day that [he] had left,” DOC staff and inmates “misgendered [him] with female pronouns on an almost daily basis.”71 When Doe corrected a fellow officer’s pronoun usage, the officer replied, “Well, you still have tits and a twat, right?”72 Another officer told Doe, “You minorities get what you deserve.”73

When Doe reported harassment to his supervisors, “Baumbach … started yelling at [him].”74 And after Doe reported a particular officer’s harassment, he “was met outside by not only [the officer] himself, but also his brother, who was also an officer, and a few other officers, outside, which made [Doe] feel very unsafe and uncomfortable by the show of force of kind of, like, them versus [Doe].”75 From this testimony about physical intimidation, discriminatory comments, and almost daily misgendering, a reasonable juror could find a hostile work environment.

Defendants counter that none of these incidents were severe enough to constitute a hostile work environment. But the Third Circuit has “precluded an individualized, incident-by-incident approach.”76 “Because a hostile work environment claim is a single cause of action, rather than a sum of discrete claims, each to be judged independently, the focus is the work atmosphere as a whole.”77 Viewing the totality of the circumstances and Doe’s work atmosphere as a whole, a reasonable juror could find a hostile work environment.

The court next held that since plaintiff has “adequately shown a hostile work environment based on sex/gender under the Equal Protection Clause at this stage [his] constructive discharge claim does not fail either.”

Share This: