2nd Circuit, Citing Racist & Sexist Slurs, Revives Hostile Work Environment Claims From Summary Judgment Dismissal

In Xiamin Zeng, AKA Aimee Zane v. New York City Housing Authority, 2023 WL 4553416 (2d Cir. July 17, 2023), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the lower court’s summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s race- and sex-based hostile work environment claims.

Here is the crux of the court’s decision as to that issue:

Zeng asserts that the repeated incidents of abusive, discriminatory remarks and conduct by co-workers and supervisors, which occurred during her approximately ten months at NYCHA, were sufficiently severe and pervasive to support a hostile work environment claim. The district court determined otherwise, holding that “[b]ased on all the evidence presented … [the district court is] not persuaded that a reasonable person would view [Zeng’s] work environment as sufficiently racially or sexually hostile so as to alter the conditions of employment.” Special App’x at 18–19 (internal quotation marks omitted). We disagree with the district court and conclude that the evidence in the record, construed most favorably to Zeng, was sufficient to preclude summary judgment on the hostile work environment claims under Title VII and Section 1981.

Zeng submitted a sworn declaration and stated in her complaint that, in July 2016, when she began working at LaGuardia Houses as the only Asian employee for NYCHA at that location, her male supervisor (Alex Rodriguez) assigned her to work alone in a dangerous building, despite the fact that workers were usually assigned to work there in pairs for safety. In September 2016, Zeng was cornered by a resident of the building who threatened and sexually assaulted her. According to Zeng, although she reported the assault to NYCHA and requested a transfer to a safer location, there was no investigation or transfer, and instead she continued to be required to work alone on projects at LaGuardia Houses, unlike her male and non-Asian co-workers. Zeng also stated in her sworn declaration that she was forced to work outside without a coat for long hours during the cold month of November while NYCHA provided all other employees with winter coats. Zeng further asserts that, in October 2016, she was denied time off to attend court appearances to renew an order of protection against her abusive ex-boyfriend, and her supervisor threatened to terminate her employment if she attended the hearing. Several weeks later, in November 2016, she was transferred to Isaacs Houses after she saw the man who had sexually assaulted her in September 2016 taking drugs near where she was working in LaGuardia Houses.

Zeng stated in her declaration and complaint that the alleged hostile work environment continued at Isaacs Houses based upon, inter alia, the following events: (1) on multiple occasions, her new male supervisor (Elliot Ramos) “kicked the unlockable women’s bathroom door open and walked in while [she] was using the bathroom,” asking whether she was sleeping or taking a break, App’x at 773; (2) for the majority of her placement at Isaacs Houses, Zeng did not receive a physical schedule setting forth her responsibilities on a weekly basis, even though her non-Asian co-workers received such a schedule, id.; id. at 62; and (3) in December 2016, while sitting with her co-workers and her then-supervisor Ramos, she told them that she would not work on Christmas Day because she had to facilitate a visitation with her son’s father, and they responded by laughing and shouting racist and sexist comments, such as “f**king Asian,” “f**king yellow Asian,” “f**king stupid b***h,” and “f**k her son,” id. at 773.

After complaining about her mistreatment at Isaacs Houses, Zeng was transferred to Smith Houses in January 2017 and allegedly overheard her new supervisor (Elliott Medina) call her prior supervisor (Ramos) on her first day to ask for her personnel file, as to which Ramos angrily responded, “F**k the B***h! Do not transfer her! I’m her boss. She must be [at Isaacs Houses]! Give her a Memo. Kick her out. Stupid Yellow B***h!” Id. at 774. According to Zeng, one of her co-workers (Ms. Slim) from Isaacs Houses, who had cursed and laughed at her and said “F**k Asians” whenever she saw Zeng, also had been re-assigned to Smith Houses. Id. at 775. When Slim learned of Zeng’s transfer, Slim called several of Zeng’s co-workers at Smith Houses who subsequently, on many occasions, shouted insulting words to Zeng in the women’s restroom.

The Court held that, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff (as it is required to do at this procedural juncture), “this evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact as to whether the alleged racist and sexist insults leveled against by her supervisors and co-workers, combined with the aforementioned conduct—including her male supervisor’s physical invasion of her privacy in the women’s restroom on multiple occasions—could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that Zeng was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her race and gender.”

Share This: