Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim, Based on Contentions of Negative Treatment Relative to White Teammates, Sufficiently Alleged

In Harding v. Dorilton Capital Advisors LLC et al, No. 22 Civ 01726 (CM), 2022 WL 10650256 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

Plaintiff alleges that Mathew [his direct supervisor] engaged in conduct that was not facially neutral because Mathew exhibited animosity towards Plaintiff that was not shown to his white teammates and deprived Plaintiff of opportunities that his white teammates received. Specifically, he alleges that Mathew chastised, berated, and humiliated Plaintiff, subjected Plaintiff’s work to a significant level of scrutiny, imposed extra work requirements, and blind called Plaintiff after work hours, all of which was not directed towards Plaintiff’s white team members. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive a salary raise that white team members received, did not receive necessary information and tools that white team members received, and was subjected to unwarranted and novel disciplinary measures and consequences that white team members were not subjected to.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s comparisons to his white team members are insufficient because many of the comparisons do not disclose the alleged comparator’s race, ethnicity, or national origin – instead merely referring to disparate treatment as compared to “team members.” However, while not all of the comparisons in the Complaint refer explicitly to “white” team members, it is sufficient that Plaintiff does include a number of comparisons to specifically white team members who were under Mathew’s supervision. Certainly there is enough in the Complaint to withstand a motion to dismiss.

Defendants further assert that Plaintiff does not establish whether any of his comparators were similarly situated to Plaintiff in all material respects. To establish that employees outside of the plaintiff’s protected class were similarly situated, the individuals with whom plaintiff attempts to compare herself must be similarly situated in all material respects. A plaintiff is not obligated to show disparate treatment of an identically situated employee but, rather, other employees must have a situation sufficiently similar to plaintiff’s to support at least a minimal inference that the difference of treatment may be attributable to discrimination. In undertaking their analysis, courts generally look to whether a plaintiff and her competitors were (1) subject to the same performance evaluation and discipline standards and (2) engaged in comparable conduct.

Here, Plaintiff alleges that he received worse treatment than the white employees who were on his team, under Mathew’s supervision, and responsible for similar or identical work product. Plaintiff alleges that these white team members, who were less qualified than Plaintiff, received salary raises and access to information and tools that Plaintiff did not receive. Plaintiff further alleges specific instances in which white employees, who tasked with the same assignments as Plaintiff, were not subject to scrutiny or berated by Mathew, despite executing such tasks to a worse standard than Plaintiff. Plaintiff also alleges that he was given work assignments to create templates intended for use by the entire team – including his white team members – that his white team members were never required to create or use.

These allegations are sufficient to conclude, at the motion to dismiss stage, that Plaintiff’s alleged comparators are “similarly situated” to him.

Plaintiff has pointed to multiple instances in which he was subjected to comments and conduct that could support a claim that Plaintiff’s work environment was “altered” and “abusive.” Plaintiff alleges that he was subject to continuous harassment from Mathew over the course of his employment with Defendants, which included: derogatory comments and poor treatment, such as use of an abrasive, impatient and condescending tone, consistently misnaming Plaintiff, responding to questions with insults, and embarrassing Plaintiff on calls with clients.

Plaintiff further alleges conduct that made it difficult for him to do his job effectively. Specifically, Mathew “interfered with [Plaintiff’s] working conditions” through demonstrating a pattern of unwarranted scrutiny towards Plaintiff’s work, shadowing Plaintiff by joining client calls and encouraging Plaintiff’s teammates to do the same, blind calling Plaintiff on his personal cell phone outside of work hours, forcing Plaintiff to complete extra projects not required of other team members, and replacing new projects with failing older projects. Significantly, Plaintiff also alleges that he did not receive promotions, salary raises , or critical training and tools required to complete his job.

Taken together, these incidents consist of ongoing hostility that impacted Plaintiff’s day-to-day work environment. Indeed, Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of Mathew’s actions in front of clients, portfolio company clients commented to Plaintiff privately and without prompting about Mathew’s animus and hostile behavior. Plaintiff further alleges that the extent of the hostility led him to, first, inform Mathew that HR might need to become involved in order to review all the extra work Plaintiff was receiving and unprofessional tone and language directed at Plaintiff and, second, to ultimately raise his concerns regarding his treatment by Mathew to HR.

[Cleaned up.]

In the end, the court had “no difficulty concluding that the Complaint states a claim for hostile work environment created by Harding’s supervisor, Matthew, acting within the scope of his employment,” and hence denied defendants’ motion.

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