Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Upheld Against Law Firm

In Parker Waichman, LLP v. Mauro, No. 1215/12, 2019-13054, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 02014, 2023 WL 2994962 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., Apr. 19, 2023), the court, inter alia, upheld a lower court’s finding in favor of defendant/counterclaim plaintiff’s sex-based hostile work environment claim asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

The court summarized the black-letter law as follows:

Under Executive Law § 296(1)(a), it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer, because of an individual’s sex, to discriminate against such individual in compensations or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” An employment discrimination cause of action may proceed on a hostile work environment theory (see Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295; Forrest v. Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 N.Y.3d 295, 310–311, 786 N.Y.S.2d 382, 819 N.E.2d 998; Ortega v. Bisogno & Meyerson, 2 A.D.3d 607, 769 N.Y.S.2d 279). A hostile work environment on the basis of sex exists “when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment” (Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. at 21, 114 S.Ct. 367 [citation and internal quotation marks omitted]; see Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49; Forrest v. Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 N.Y.3d at 310, 786 N.Y.S.2d 382, 819 N.E.2d 998). A determination as to whether a work environment is hostile must be made by considering all the circumstances, including the frequency and severity of the discriminatory conduct, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with work performance, and the conduct must create an environment that is both subjectively and objectively hostile. [Cleaned up.]

Applying the law, in upholding this claim, the court pointed to evidence that included “Mauro’s testimony of being subjected on numerous occasions to physical and verbal sexually inappropriate conduct by Waichman while working for him, and sexually explicit work emails sent by Waichman to Mauro.”

Additionally, it held that the award of $20,000 to Mauro as compensatory damages for mental anguish and humiliation was not against the weight of the evidence and was warranted by the facts.

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