Discrimination Claims, Based in Part on Mocking of Slovenian Accent, Survive Summary Judgment

In Hribovsek v. United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, No. 152849/2017, 2022 WL 16924073 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Nov. 14, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of race and national origin discrimination, as well as her claims of hostile work environment, under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

As to plaintiff’s discrimination claims, the court explained:

A plaintiff alleging racial discrimination in employment has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. To meet this burden, plaintiff must show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified to hold the position; (3) she was terminated from employment or suffered another adverse employment action; and (4) the discharge or other adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. The burden then shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by clearly setting forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support its employment decision. In order to nevertheless succeed on her claim, the plaintiff must prove that the legitimate reasons proffered by the defendant were merely a pretext for discrimination by demonstrating both that the stated reasons were false and that discrimination was the real reason” (Forrest v Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 NY3d 295, 305, 786 NYS2d 382 [2004]).

Here, plaintiff raised material issues of fact with respect to her claims for racial and national original discrimination under both the State and City Human Rights Law. Plaintiff asserts that she was discriminated against because of her race (she insists she was treated differently from those who were non-white) and because of her national origin due to her accent (plaintiff is from Slovenia). Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that she was qualified to be an administrative assistant and a receptionist, that she was ultimately terminated and plaintiff alleges she was terminated, in part, because of her race and national origin. Under the State Human Rights Law and the City Human Rights Law (which is construed more broadly in favor of plaintiffs), there are multiple issues of fact.

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court found that plaintiff “alleges a work environment in which she was routinely subjected to harassment, intimidation, and ridicule on a weekly or even daily basis” and declined “to find that the insults were so sporadic as to justify dismissing these claims at the summary judgment stage.”

Share This: