Alleged “Racist and Sexist Verbal Attacks” Support Hostile Work Environment Claim Under Amended NYS Human Rights Law

In Manns v. New York State Dept. of Financial Services, No. 160479/2022, 2023 WL 6812166 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Oct. 16, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of hostile work environment asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that she was harassed and discriminated against by four persons, including one co-worker and three supervisors. For example, she alleged that her co-worker subjected her to “racist and sexist verbal attacks” nearly daily, including calling plaintiff “stupid,” “bitch,” and “black bitch” and referring to her using male pronouns.

As to plaintiff’s harassment and hostile work environment claims, the court explained:

The 2019 amendment to the NYSHRL took effect in October 2019, lowered the standard of a hostile work environment claim. Prior to the 2019 amendments to the NYSHRL, the employee was required to plead that the harassment was “severe” and “pervasive” (see i.e. Maiurana v. Cantor Fitzgerald Secs., 2021 WL 76410 [SDNY 2021]). Plaintiff’s counsel argues that since the last hostile act in the workplace occurred after the 2019 amendment, plaintiff’s claims should be analyzed under the post-2019 amendment standard. The court agrees.

“[I]f a plaintiff has experienced a continuous practice and policy of discrimination, the commencement of the statute of limitations period may be delayed until the last discriminatory act in furtherance of it” (Hudson v. Western New York Bics Div., 73 Fed Appx 525 [2d Cir 2003] quoting Fitzergald v. Henderson, 251 F3d 345 [2d Cir 2001]). Contrary to defense counsel’s contention, the conduct plaintiff complains of is all part of the same practice and policy of discrimination. Therefore, plaintiff’s harassment and hostile work environment claims accrued after the 2019 amendment to the NYSHRL became effective and thus plaintiff’s claims will be analyzed under the post-2019 amendment standard.

Following the 2019 amendment to the NYSHLR, in order to establish a hostile work environment, plaintiff need only show that the harassment “subjects an individual to inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s membership in one or more of these protected categories” (Exec Law § 296[1][h]). Whereas, the employer can raise an affirmative defense that the “harassing conduct does not rise above the level of what a reasonable victim of discrimination with the same protected characteristic or characteristics would consider petty slights or trivial inconveniences.”

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff’s allegations “easily” met her burden to defeat defendant’s motion.

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