Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Against USPS Dismissed

In Lowery v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Great Lakes Area Operations, No. 1:21-cv-01871, 2023 WL 3791467 (S.D. Ind. June 2, 2023), the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

Mr. Lowery has not shown that his work environment was objectively offensive or severe. While Mr. Thurston’s comments—referring to Mr. Lowery as “Mr. Part-Time” etc.—may have been inappropriate, they were not ” ‘so severe or pervasive’ as to ‘alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.’ ” Faragher, 524 U.S. at 786. Similarly, Mr. Thurston’s comments regarding lateness and timekeeping may have been unprofessional, but they were not abusive or threatening. Mr. Thurston’s comments are similar to those made by the supervisors in Abrego and Watkins. Like the plaintiff in Watkins being called “trouble,” Mr. Lowery being called “Mr. Part-Time” did not amount to a hostile work environment.

And the designated evidence does not provide “a racially charged context” as Mr. Lowery contends, dkt. 40 at 4. The comments themselves are facially race-neutral and Mr. Lowery has not designated evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the comments were based on racial animus or had anything whatsoever to do with race. See Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 920 (7th Cir. 2016) (“Any notion of race-based hostile environment can be quickly dispatched. The record contained not a single racially offensive email, remark, or other hint of racial animus.”).

This decision illustrates, as do so many others, that even conduct that qualifies as “inappropriate” is alone insufficient to give rise to an actionable hostile work environment claim.

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