Gender-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Survive Dismissal; Allegations Include Physical and Verbal Harassment

In Samuels v. City of New York et al, 22-cv-1904 (JGK), 2023 WL 5717892 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 5, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s gender-based hostile work environment claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1954, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

From the decision:

The City’s only argument for dismissal of these claims is that the plaintiff has failed to “plead that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender.” But that argument lacks merit. The Title VII hostile work environment inquiry looks to the “totality of the circumstances,” and it is well-established that “facially sex-neutral incidents” may be “included … among the totality of the circumstances that courts consider in any hostile work environment claim, so long as a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that they were, in fact, based on sex.” In this case, the plaintiff has alleged a course of conduct that is sufficient, when viewed as a whole, to permit an inference of pervasive hostility and mistreatment directed at the plaintiff because of her gender.

The plaintiff specifically alleges that she was assaulted by male co-workers on three occasions. The first of those assaults, in which Worker 1 “massag[ed]” the plaintiff’s buttocks, was plainly an overt sexual act motivated by the plaintiff’s gender, after which Worker 1 approached the plaintiff from behind and made the threatening statement, “I’m never going to be that far from you.” At the time of the sexual assault, at least two other female employees had already complained about Worker 1’s conduct to DOT management, and “[i]t took nine months and multiple complaints” against Worker 1 before he was terminated. The plaintiff was then assaulted on two other occasions, one in which Worker 2 “head-butted” her, and another in which Worker 3 “shoved [her] against the wall, choked her,” and “scream[ed]” in her face. The plaintiff alleges that she reported both incidents, but Worker 2 was “promoted to supervisor” instead of “punished.” And after the incident involving Worker 3, the plaintiff and Worker 3 remained at the same “job sites, allowing Worker 3 the opportunity to continue to harass her”, and each of her 19 requests to transfer away from Worker 3 were denied.

The plaintiff alleges other incidents consistent with this pattern of mistreatment. See, e.g., id. ¶ 25 (Worker 3 “continued to make aggressive comments [to the plaintiff], physically tower over her, and threaten her”); see also id. ¶ 48 (the plaintiff was “harassed and threatened by her supervisor”); id. ¶ 49 (the DOT continued to “writ[e] up” the plaintiff for “minor violations” without any justification for doing so). Moreover, the plaintiff’s allegations permit an inference that her complaints to the DOT about mistreatment by male co-workers — as well as similar complaints made by other female employees — were often met with skepticism and indifference, and that the complained-of mistreatment was repeatedly minimized or tolerated.8 When the totality of these alleged circumstances are considered, the amended complaint supports an inference that the plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her gender. Thus, the plaintiff has adequately alleged a Title VII hostile work environment claim. Furthermore, because the plaintiff has stated a claim under Title VII, she has also stated a hostile work environment claim under both the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL.

[Cleaned up.]

Based on this, the court concluded that these claims (unlike plaintiff’s disability-based hostile work environment claims) survived dismissal.

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