Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Dismissal; Court Cites “Slave” Reference

In Calixte v. 14 Street Medical, P.C., No. 522952/22, 2023 WL 4083561 (N.Y. Sup Ct, Kings County June 13, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of a race-based hostile work environment in violation of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

From the decision:

The second and fifth causes of action asserted against the Defendants are for racially based hostile work environment in violation of NYSHRL and NYCHRL, respectively.

A plaintiff claiming a hostile work environment animated by discrimination in violation of the NYSHRL must show that 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” (Reichman v City of New York, 179 AD3d 1115, 1118 [2020]). “Under the NYCHRL, a plaintiff claiming a hostile work environment need only demonstrate that he or she was treated ‘less well than other employees’ because of the relevant characteristic” (id. at 1118). However, the conduct alleged must exceed what a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider “petty slights and trivial inconveniences” (id.).

Here, the complaint sufficiently alleges that Calixte was faced with racial discrimination from her supervisor, defendant Feldman, who allegedly compared her to a “slave” and communicated with her in an aggressive manner when she inquired about errors in her wage statements, while he communicated with other Caucasian employees of 14 Street Medical in a soft-spoken manner. Contrary to defense counsel’s contention, defendant Feldman’s alleged reference to slavery when speaking to Calixte, an African American woman, well exceeded a petty slight.

The court also held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged retaliation, noting plaintiff’s complaint’s allegation that “[n]o longer able to endure the race discrimination, the hostile work environment, the retaliation, and the emotional and psychological trauma, Plaintiff Calixte was forced to resign from her position on April 20, 2022.”

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