Disability-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Discourteous” and “Unpleasant” Conduct Held Insufficient

In Talbott-Serrano v. Iona College et al, No. 21-CV-1055 (CS), 2022 WL 3718346 (S.D.N.Y. August 29, 2022), the court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s disability-based hostile work environment claim asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This case illustrates the subtle, yet crucial, distinction between a work environment that may “hostile” in the ordinary, dictionary sense of the word, on the one hand, and a “hostile work environment” as that term is used in employment law, on the other.

Plaintiff testified that her supervisor as rude and disrespectful to her, and that she, e.g., cut plaintiff off during weekly team calls during quarantine; directed anger towards plaintiff when speaking with her; didn’t let plaintiff finish her sentences; and made plaintiff feel like she wasn’t part of the team and wasn’t important.

The court explained:

Such instances, although perhaps discourteous and unpleasant, reflect only a fraught relationship with her supervisor. They may well have been difficult or stressful for Plaintiff, but that does not make them sufficiently serious such that they are actionable. No rational jury could find that Plaintiff’s workplace was permeated by discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that was sufficiently pervasive or severe. Excessive criticism and rudeness simply do not constitute a hostile work environment. This is so even if combined with the failure to provide equipment, transfers, or other treatment perceived as negative.

Finally, even if these incidents were sufficiently serious or pervasive, Plaintiff fails to provide evidence that Defendant Iona’s conduct can be attributed to her disability. Although Plaintiff has perhaps shown that her work environment may have been unpleasant – even “hostile” in ordinary parlance, her claim must be dismissed because the circumstances do not permit an inference that she was singled out for mistreatment because of her disability – particularly given that Plaintiff found Azure to be rude and disrespectful before anybody had knowledge of Plaintiff’s protected characteristic.

[Cleaned up; citations omitted.]

The court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law, and thus dismissed those claims without prejudice.

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