Title VII Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim, Arising From Patient Conduct, Survives Dismissal

In EEOC v. 98 Starr Road Operating Co., LLC, 2023 WL 4557751 (D.Vt. July 17, 2023), the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In this case, the complaint alleges repeated incidents of racial insults (including the “n-word”), physical assaults, and threats of deadly force that a reasonable person would find offensive. The court held that these allegations suffice to allege a hostile work environment under Title VII.

However, what makes this case somewhat unique is the fact that the alleged harassers were not fellow employees, but rather patients/residents of the defendant, a corporation that operates a senior care facility.

Thus, the more challenging issue for the court was whether the defendant may be held liable for the actions of its patients/residents. In answering that question in the affirmative, the court explained that “it is well-established that employers may be held liable for harassment by third parties when that conduct creates a hostile work environment” and the “employer knew or reasonably should have known about the harassment and failed to take reasonable remedial action.”

The court ultimately held that, notwithstanding the existence of federal and state regulations designed to protect residents, remedial measures remained available, finding that “there is no bright-line rule preventing employees from bringing Title VII hostile work environment claims against a long-term care facility for the harassing conduct of the facility’s patients.”

Share This: