Conduct by “Mean Girls” Insufficient to Give Rise to Actionable “Hostile Work Environment”, Court HoldsEngaged in

In Wasserman v. Kiran Ahuja, Director, Office of Personnel Management, et al, Defendants., No. 21-0026 (ABJ), 2023 WL 157319 (D.D.C. Jan. 11, 2023), the court dismissed plaintiff’s age- and gender-based hostile work environment claims asserted under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After summarizing the “black letter” law, the court applied it to the facts as follows:

Plaintiff describes a set of adult “mean girls” acting as if they were still in middle school, and their barbs were apparently quite painful to endure. But boorish or immature behavior is not the focus of Title VII or the ADEA. First, even accepting plaintiff’s characterizations of the events as true, her claims about her coworkers’ tone and volume, as well as their non-verbal conduct, do not amount to plausible allegations of statements or actions “focused on” her age or sex in any way, much less that the offensive conduct occurred “because of” her sex or age.

Second, plaintiff’s allegations that her coworkers sneered, grimaced, mocked, and isolated her, do not paint a picture of “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. The allegations do not add up to a severe disruption of plaintiff’s working conditions. For example, while the Court can understand why plaintiff was upset by her coworkers acting “cold and distant,” or isolating her, these behaviors fall well within the category of “ordinary tribulations of the workplace.

[Cleaned up.]

This holding reinforces the general principle, often reiterated, that the anti-discrimination laws are not “general civility codes” for the workplace.

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