Race, National Origin, Religion Discrimination & Hostile Work Environment Claims Held Properly Dismissed Against the NYC Transit Authority

In Etienne v MTA New York City Transit Authority, No. 155727/22, 1567, 2023-02797, 2024 N.Y. Slip Op. 00372, 2024 WL 330868 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., Jan. 30, 2024), the New York Appellate Division, First Department unanimously affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims.

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

Plaintiff failed to plead any facts showing that she was treated differently because of her race, religion, or national origin. At the outset, the complaint did not allege that any of plaintiff’s colleagues or supervisors made any explicitly or implicitly invidious comments about her race, religion, or country of origin. Plaintiff claimed that on one occasion a supervisor stated to her that she was being mistreated by a different supervisor because of her race. However, “[s]tray remarks such as [this], even if made by a decision maker, do not, without more, constitute evidence of discrimination” (Melman v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., 98 AD3d 107, 125 [1st Dept 2012]). Furthermore, plaintiff was promoted in 2017 to a position that she continues to hold today, and the same individuals who plaintiff claims discriminated against her were the actors who promoted her, which further undercuts an inference of discrimination (see Dickerson v. Health Mgt. Corp. of Am., 21 AD3d 326, 329 [1st Dept 2005]).

Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim fails for the same reason. The complaint alleged that her supervisors regularly and unjustifiably criticized her work, refused to permit overtime or lunchtime work, pressured plaintiff to complete assignments in an unrealistic time frame, and were disrespectful and yelled at her three times over the course of her employment. Even assuming that the alleged acts or omissions amounted to more than petty slights and trivial inconveniences, the evidence is not sufficient to establish that plaintiff’s supervisors’ behavior was motivated because of her protected status, such as her race, religion, or national origin.

It further held that plaintiff failed to state a claim for retaliation. Specifically, it held that while defendant (after plaintiff filed a notice of claim and filed a charge of discrimination) imposed a rule requiring her to clock out during her lunch hour and enforced the agency’s overtime cap, “plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts as to why these mandates would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination, or why it constituted anything more than a trivial harm.”

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