Title VII Race Discrimination Claim Dismissal Affirmed; NYC Human Rights Law Claims Improperly Dismissed

In Harge v. City of New York et al, 2022 WL 17481819 (2d Cir. Dec. 7, 2022), the court, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s race discrimination claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

Here, Harge bases his hostile work environment claim on evidence of monitoring, undesirable work assignments, poor evaluation scores, and his receipt of disciplinary actions for repeated violations of departmental procedure. The district court aptly characterized this evidence as “borderline” with respect to whether it was sufficiently severe or pervasive to sustain his claim. Harge I, 2021 WL 3855305, at *16–17. More importantly, however, the record does not support the claim that this workplace environment was a byproduct of racial animus. See Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001) (“[M]istreatment at work, whether through subjection to a hostile environment or through [other means], is actionable under Title VII only when it occurs because of an employee’s … protected characteristic.”). The record contains evidence of episodic racially biased comments. See JA-917, 938. But, “[f]or racist comments, slurs, and jokes to constitute a hostile work environment, there [generally] must be more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity[.]” Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The district court did not err in concluding that a reasonable jury, viewing this evidence in its totality, could not find that Harge was subject to a hostile work environment because of his race.

However, the court determined that the lower court erred by dismissing plaintiff’s claims under the New York City Human Rights Law, in that it improperly “lumped together the federal hostile work environment claim with a possible parallel claim under the NYCHRL, without recognizing that conduct that was insufficiently pervasive to violate federal law might constitute a violation of city law.”

That said, the court remanded plaintiff’s claims to the district court “to dismiss them without prejudice” since “absent a live federal claim, the questions posed by Harge’s city discrimination claims are best left to the courts of the State of New York.”

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