Title VII Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment Against City of Troy

In Johnson v. The City of Troy et al, 1:20-cv-1279 (MAD/TWD), 2023 WL 2587945 (N.D.N.Y. March 21, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-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:

In the present matter, the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged incidents sufficiently continuous and concerted to support his claim. For example, Plaintiff testified to numerous comments by Sergeant French and Detective Hoover which highlighted his race, and which ridiculed Black men for dating fat white women. See Dkt. No. 66-1 at ¶¶ 390, 404-06. Similarly, Plaintiff testified that Sergeant French stated to Plaintiff that “You’re always trying to be white by doing white people things,” when discussing the fact Plaintiff enjoyed snowmobiling. See Dkt. No. 59-2 at 214. Detective Hoover admitted that he had heard comments regarding Black men dating fat white women and that he believed that such comments were appropriately made during “times of ball-busting.” Dkt. No. 66-1 at ¶ 391.

Plaintiff also testified that Sergeant French said “Hey, we’re looking for a black male with a handgun. Chris, tell your cousin to bring the gun back.” Dkt. No. 59-2 at 166-67. Similarly, Plaintiff testified that Sergeant French said “Oh, there was a shooting, two black males or whatever. Chris, it’s your people again.” Id. at 167.

Plaintiff also testified that Detective Hoover stated that the redesigned SOS unit patch should be a spear and a piece of chicken. See Dkt. No. 66-1 at ¶ 407; Dkt. No. 59-2 at 112, 166, 224. Also, in December 2019, in the presence of a civilian visitor while Plaintiff was sitting in his office with the lights off, Sergeant French stated “Chris is back there in the room in the dark. Smile so we can see you.” Id. at ¶ 393.

Although Plaintiff cannot recall all of the specific racially charged comments that were made during his time with the SOS unit, he testified that Sergeant French made such comments on a constant basis, particularly towards the end of his time with the SOS unit. See Dkt. No. 59-2 at 165, 169; Dkt. No. 66-1 at ¶ 389. Based on this record, the Court cannot agree with Defendants that the complained of conduct in this case was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to be actionable as a matter of law. See Hayut v. State Univ. of New York, 352 F.3d 733, 745-46 (2d Cir. 2003); Cady v. Cortland, No. 96-cv-1229, 2000 WL 1456285, *12 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2000). Although Title VII was “not intended to sterilize the workplace,” Lucas v. South Nassau Comm. Hosp., 54 F. Supp. 2d 141, 147 (E.D.N.Y. 1998), a fact finder could determine that the environment in the SOS unit of the Troy PD was both “objectively and subjectively offensive” such that “a reasonable person” would have found it to be hostile and abusive “and one that the victim did perceive to be so.”

Based on this, the court held that summary judgment was not warranted on this claim.

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