Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Dismissal; Court Cites “Troublemaker” and “Angry Black Woman” Comments

In Walker v. Christine E. Wormuth, Secretary of the Army, 2023 WL 2428903 (D.Kan. March 9, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

Defendant argues that the Court must dismiss this claim because Plaintiff fails to allege specific facts about being labeled a “troublemaker” and “angry black woman.” Defendant further argues that the Complaint is devoid of facts that plausibly demonstrate that the harassment Plaintiff endured was because of her race, and that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive.

The Court disagrees with Defendant that Plaintiff must plead with specificity the who, when, and where of being labeled a “troublemaker” and “angry black woman.” It is sufficient that Plaintiff alleges that she was labeled as such, and that this view of her created the alleged hostile work environment, as evidenced by several specific examples of conduct set forth in the Complaint.

The Court also disagrees with Defendant that the Complaint is devoid of facts to support Plaintiff’s claim that the hostile work environment was based on her race. Viewing the facts alleged as true, the hostile work environment was based in part on Defendant’s view of her as an “angry black woman.” Moreover, she alleges that her prior race discrimination complaints caused Defendant to hold this view. She alleges this inappropriate label caused Defendant to discriminate and retaliate against her by creating a hostile work environment. This is sufficient at the pleading stage to demonstrate that her claim is based on her protected status.

Finally, the Court finds that Plaintiff pleads sufficient facts to support the fourth element of her claim—that her “workplace [was] permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working environment. This element requires the Court to consider the work environment both subjectively and objectively.40 It requires consideration of “the conduct’s frequency and severity; ‘whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance’; and whether it unreasonably interferes with the plaintiff employee’s work performance.” Here, Plaintiff contends that the hostile work environment included several disparaging comments, reassignment, and a failure to rate her performance, causing her to not receive a bonus or performance based recognition. These facts are sufficient to plausibly allege that Defendant’s conduct went beyond the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, an inquiry that is “quintessentially a question of fact.”

Based on this, the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s discriminatory hostile work environment claim.

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