Merely Invoking the Words “Hostile Work Environment” Insufficient; Claim Dismissed

In Bibbs v. CNHI, LLC, 2023 WL 3848382 (S.D.Ind. June 6, 2023), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

As for her hostile work environment claim pursuant to § 1981, CNHI contends that she has failed to allege anything rising to the level of a hostile work environment. “Deciding whether a work environment is hostile requires consideration of factors like the frequency of improper conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating (as opposed to a mere offensive utterance), and whether it unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance.” Boss, 816 F.3d at 920 (citing Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 982 (7th Cir. 2014)). “Although a connection between the harassment and the plaintiff’s protected class need not be explicit, ‘there must be some connection, for not every perceived unfairness in the workplace may be ascribed to discriminatory motivation merely because the complaining employee belongs to a [protected class].” Paschall, 28 F.4th at 814 (quoting Cole, 838 F.3d at 896).

Ms. Bibbs has provided nothing beyond bare assertions of a hostile work environment without including any legally actionable harassment. She repeatedly invokes the words “hostile work environment” but fails to specify what form the unwelcome harassment took, how it was based on her race or sex, or the extent to which it was severe or pervasive. By generally characterizing her employer’s actions as “harassment”—including such things as the requirement that she attend an HR meeting after she had reported discrimination, her removal from covering the ACS beat, scheduling a meeting to discuss her communication style after she accused an ACS Board Member of being a “white supremacist,” or challenging her sourcing decisions—does not make it so. None of these actions are objectively abusive, threatening, or otherwise of the sort that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that it unreasonably interfered with her job performance. See also Kluge v. Brownsburg Comm. School Corp., 432 F. Supp. 3d 823, 849 (S.D. Ind. 2020) (granting motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim because “none of his allegations demonstrate that he was frequently harassed, threatened, or humiliated, or that his work environment became abusive,” and the statement that defendant’s actions adversely affected his working conditions was conclusory and unsupported by any specific factual allegations); Boniface v. Westminster Place, 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”).

Based on this, the court dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim pursuant to § 1981 for failure to sufficiently state a claim.

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