Title VII Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; “Drug Dealer”, “MLK” Comments Insufficient

In Jordan v. Auto Handling Corporation, et al, 2023 WL 5802449 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 6, 2023), the court dismissed plaintiff’s claim of race-based discrimination asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In sum, plaintiff alleged that he experienced “racial incidents” during his employment, including a joke that plaintiff was a “drug dealer” and including plaintiff on an email chain where an employee of defendant joked about “whiting out” Martin Luther King, Jr.

After summarizing the “black letter” law applicable to this claim, the court applied it to the facts:

The facts reveal only two incidents that could support Jordan’s hostile work environment claim: Tumbleson’s joke about Jordan being a “drug dealer” and the MLK email. It is true that there is no “magic number” of instances that create a hostile work environment. Alamo v. Bliss, 864 F.3d 541, 550 (7th Cir. 2017). That there are only two instances, then, is not determinative. But what is determinative is that these instances are neither “pervasive” nor “severe.” Tumbleson’s comment and the email are both less severe than the use of the n-word or other racial epithets that have supported a hostile work environment claim despite isolated instances. See Cerros v. Steel Techs., Inc., 398 F.3d 944, 950-51 (7th Cir. 2005). And the Court does not find the two instances, taken together, to be “extreme” or numerous enough to be pervasive. E.E.O.C. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 903 F.3d 618, 625 (7th Cir. 2018). Finally, there is no evidence that the conduct affected Jordan’s ability to work. Hambrick v. Kijakazi, — F.4th —, 2023 WL 5319242, at *4 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2023) (“[i]nsults, personal animosity, and juvenile behavior are insufficient evidence of a hostile work environment unless they are so pervasive or severe as to interfere withan employee’s work performance”).

The court concluded that “[l]uckily” for defendants (and unfortunately for plaintiff), our “discrimination laws do not mandate admirable behavior from employers” and that while “[n]othing about the conduct of JCTC’s employees toward Jordan makes the Court want to seek a job there … more is required for a legally actionable hostile work environment”.

Share This: