Hostile Work Environment Claims Sufficiently Alleged Against Institute for the Brain

In Newman v. Intern. Institute for the Brain (Ibrain), No. 150459/2023, 2023 WL 535099 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Aug. 16, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claims asserted under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

From the decision:

Under the NYSHRL, a hostile work environment exists “[w]hen 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” (Forest, supra at 310 quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 US 17 [1993]). The NYCHRL standard is more liberal that the NYSHLR standard for a hostile work environment claim, and plaintiff need only show that she has been treated less well than other employees because of her gender (see Williams v New York City Hous. Auth., 61 AD3d 62, 78 [1st Dept 2009]; see also Abe v. New York University, 159 AD3d 445 [1st Dept 2019]).

In ruling in plaintiff’s favor, the court cited to affidavits, submitted from plaintiff’s former co-workers, detailing how women were treated differently.

In one, the affiant stated, in pertinent part:

Dr. Pedro shouted at and demeaned me and the rest of the music therapy team, which were all women. He also forced us to participate in his unethical research. He fired any woman employee who stood up to him or said anything he did not agree with. Two of my direct supervisors (both women) were fired for absolutely no reason while I was working there. Dr. Pedro was especially demeaning to me and the other women who worked there.

In the other, the affiant stated:

I and other women employees at [the School] were definitely treated differently than the male employees there, in that Patrick Donohue and others in upper management spoke to us and treated us in a short, disrespectful manner, which sharply worded orders to ‘do this or do that’ with little or no explanation or discussion. It was definitely a hostile work environment. The male employees were treated much better, as if they were real human beings and not work-slaves to be ordered around. Donohue and the other managers also refused to listen to or consider my ideas or that of the other women employees, and would often just shout us down or dismiss us as if we could not possible come up with any good ideas. It was as if the only good ideas could come from the male employees. And if the women employees hesitated or questioned an order, they would likely be summarily fired. It was ‘my way or the highway’ when it came to the women employees at [the School].

Applying the law, the court concluded:

Reading the allegations in the most favorable light, the court finds that plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to survive defendants’ motion to dismiss her second cause of action. When coupled with the affidavits of Kelly and Afeef, plaintiff has stated a claim under the NYCHRL that she was treated less well than male employees at the School. As for the NYSHRL-based claim, the court finds that given the relatively short period of time that plaintiff worked at the School, plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to establish severe and pervasive discriminatory conduct which altered the terms of plaintiff’s employment. Accordingly, defendants’ motion to dismiss the second cause of action is denied.

The court also granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s gender discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, but denied it as to plaintiff’s defamation (libel per se) claim.

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