Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Conduct Reflected Merely Plaintiff’s Displeasure With Supervisors’ Management of His Work

In Duniya v. Power, 2023 WL 2755132 (N.D.Ill. April 3, 2023), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This case, like so many others, teaches that workplace conduct that is unpleasant in the objective sense will not necessarily give rise to an actionable discrimination claim.

The court explained:

Duniya complains of being assigned additional duties, having a temporary assignment cancelled, having other duties taken away from him, having work he completed credited to other employees, being verbally admonished during a meeting, receiving poor marks on his evaluation, having overtime payment requests denied, being bullied, and receiving a suspension. But his general workplace complaints do not allow the Court to infer that a reasonable person would find his work environment hostile and instead appear to merely reflect Duniya’s displeasure with his supervisors’ management of his work. See, e.g., Dodgen v. AARP, No. 21-cv-00086, 2022 WL 4607926, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2022) (“While Dodgen may have been unhappy with Anderson’s management, or felt unfairly scrutinized, nothing in the complaint plausibly suggests that Anderson’s or Gallo’s actions towards Dodgen rose to the level of hostility required to sustain a hostile work environment claim.”); Boniface v. Westminster Place, No. 18-CV-4596, 2019 WL 479995, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2019) (dismissing plaintiff’s claim because her allegations were vague and the complaint contained “no specific allegations suggesting that any conduct was physically threatening or verbally abusive or how it interfered with her work performance”); Stone v. Bd. of Trs. of N. Ill. Univ., 38 F. Supp. 3d 935, 945 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (dismissing plaintiff’s claim because “there is no factual allegation which would plausibly suggest either the severity or pervasiveness of the identified harassment”). Although Duniya alludes to bullying, such a generic reference does not suffice, particularly when compared to more serious allegations that courts have dismissed at the pleading stage. See, e.g., Adam v. Obama for Am., 210 F. Supp. 3d 979, 990–91 (N.D. Ill. 2016) (dismissing hostile work environment claim despite allegations that supervisor pulled plaintiff’s hair, inspected her scalp, and screamed at her on multiple occasions, and that other coworkers laughed at her, gave her dirty looks, and ostracized her); Triplett v. Starbucks Coffee, No. 10 C 5215, 2011 WL 3165576, at *5–7 (N.D. Ill. July 26, 2011) (dismissing hostile work environment claim despite allegations of a racially insensitive comment, racially based disciplinary actions, and discrimination against African American employees on multiple occasions).

The Court acknowledges that “a workplace need not be ‘hellish’ to constitute a hostile work environment.” Alamo v. Bliss, 864 F.3d 541, 550 (7th Cir. 2017); see also Gates v. Bd. of Educ. of Chicago, 916 F.3d 631, 637 (7th Cir. 2019) (noting the rejection of the “hellish” standard for hostile work environment claims). But without additional details, the Court cannot conclude that the alleged conduct here rises to the level of severe or pervasive conduct required to support a hostile work environment claim. See McDaniel v. Loyola Univ. Med. Ctr., No. 13-cv-06500, 2014 WL 4269126, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 28, 2014) (“Plaintiff’s allegations in the Amended Complaint, while no doubt describing rude and unpleasant conduct, by themselves do not seem to rise to the level of the hostile and abusive atmosphere found in the case law.” (collecting cases)); see also Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998) (“ ‘[S]imple teasing,’ offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the ‘terms and conditions of employment.’ ” (citations omitted)); Swyear v. Fare Foods Corp., 911 F.3d 874, 881 (7th Cir. 2018) (“[E]mployers generally do not face liability for off-color comments, isolated incidents, teasing, and other unpleasantries that are, unfortunately, not uncommon in the workplace.”).

Based on the foregoing, the court held that dismissal was warranted. While the dismissal was “without prejudice” – meaning that the plaintiff is granted an opportunity to replead his claims – the court cautioned plaintiff that if he “chooses to replead his hostile work environment claim, he also should consider adding additional allegations to support his contention that the harassment occurred based on his race.”

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