Student-on-Teacher Anti-Semitic-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment

In Rabinowitz v. St. Joseph’s Regional High School, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Civil Action No. 18-16498 (JXN) (ESK), 2023 WL 3597633 (D.N.J. May 23, 2023), the court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of religion-based hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

In sum, plaintiff – who is Jewish – was hired to teach mathematics at defendant. Plaintiff began to experience “issues” in the classroom. These included a swastika carved into the chalkboard in his classroom and other anti-Semitic words and actions.

As to whether the discrimination was “severe or pervasive,” the court explained:

Defendants argue that any discrimination suffered by Plaintiff was “episodic” because it consisted of “sporadic acts of boorish conduct and offensive symbols,” and was not “severe or pervasive in nature.” For example, Defendants argue that there is no evidence of anti-Semitic epithets, physical harassment, or social media harassment. Defendants also argue that the chalkboard swastika pre-dated Plaintiff’s employment and that the coin throwing was not necessarily intended as religious discrimination.

However, a reasonable jury could find that the swastikas, the other graffiti, the coin throwing, the Schindler’s List reenactment, and the Hitler’s birthday incident amounted to severe or persistent discrimination. At least one student associated the coin throwing with Plaintiff’s Jewish identity, and the swastika remained in Plaintiff’s classroom despite numerous opportunities to address it. Even if the student’s association cannot be imputed to the class and the swastika was never intended to be directed at Plaintiff, the remaining evidence is sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact.

The court further held that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that a reasonable Jewish person would have been “detrimentally affected” by the discrimination, as well as that defendants knew or should have known about the anti-Semitic incidents before remedial action was taken.

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