Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment

In Battle v. Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, 2023 WL 4868458 (M.D.N.C. July 31, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim.

Comprising plaintiff’s claim were several alleged racially derogatory comments, including that “all dark-skin blacks stink”, and comparing Michelle Obama to a “monkey.”

From the decision:

Considering first the Michelle Obama comment, “describing an African-American as a ‘monkey,’ and thereby ‘suggest[ing] that a human being’s physical appearance is essentially a caricature of a jungle beast, goes far beyond the merely unflattering; it is degrading and humiliating in the extreme.’ ” Boyer-Liberto, 786 F.3d at 280. Though the comment about Michelle Obama was not directed at Plaintiff, commenting that any Black person looks like a monkey is odious and objectively offensive. Likewise, saying all Black people are recipients of a particular welfare program plays into invidious stereotypes and is objectively offensive. Finally, McMahan’s comments that a group of people with the same skin tone “stink” demonstrates an obvious racial bias against that group and again, is objectively offensive. Notably, Cleary and McMath both agreed that it would violate Defendant’s policies for an employee to make these kinds of statements. (See Cleary Dep. (Doc. 21-9) at 58-60; McMath Dep. (Doc. 21-12) at 43-46.) Plaintiff’s repeated complaints about McMahan’s comments demonstrates that she found them to be subjectively offensive.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the comments were not “pervasive,” noting plaintiff’s testimony that the derogatory comments were a “near-daily occurrence for over a year.”

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