Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Alleged Yelling, Glaring, Etc. Insufficient

In Ortiz v. Federal Bureau of Prisons et al, 2023 WL 1447920 (E.D.Cal. Feb. 1, 2023), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s sex-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After summarizing the “black letter” law governing this claim, the court applied it to the facts:

Put briefly, Plaintiff alleges that in September 2019, Dr. Paltenghi yelled at her, shook his hands at her, and made her clean an examination room. He then made a gender-related comment about the incident to a third party. Plaintiff does not allege she heard the comment personally, nor does she allege at what point she gained the information to attribute the comment to her hostile work environment. Two months later, in November 2019, Dr. Paltenghi entered the unit in which Plaintiff worked and “glared” at her. She began feeling anxious and removed herself from view. Dr. Paltenghi proceeded to “enter” the unit between January 2020 and March 2020. She filed a formal EEOC complaint on January 9, 2020.

Taken as a whole, these allegations are not sufficient to plead a hostile work environment claim. In order for an environment to be considered hostile, the conduct must have unreasonably interfered with Plaintiff’s work performance. Plaintiff does not allege that Dr. Paltenghi’s conduct resulted in the inability to perform her job. On one occasion, Plaintiff became startled and anxious when Dr. Paltenghi “glared” at her, and she removed herself from his view. She does not allege, however, that she was unable to complete her shift or perform her tasks because of his conduct.

Moreover, isolated incidents do not amount to a hostile work environment unless “extremely serious.” Plaintiff does not allege that she had any further contact with Dr. Paltenghi after the initial yelling incident and subsequent glaring, and Dr. Paltenghi’s conduct was not extremely serious. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Paltenghi merely entered the unit in which she worked on eight specific dates and does not allege any additional contact or interaction with Dr. Paltenghi, the only medical doctor at U.S.P. Atwater. His conduct, in the aggregate, would not be considered severe and pervasive to a reasonable person in Plaintiff’s position.

[Cleaned up.]

Based on this, the court concluded that since the alleged conduct was not “severe or pervasive,” plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to support a sex-based hostile work environment claim.

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