First Female White House Butler Sufficiently Alleges Race, Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims

In Izabel v. Robert B. Downing, Chief Usher at the Executive Residence, Civil Action No. 22-cv-2898 (CJN), 2024 WL 474261 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2024), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race- and sex- based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

The government contends that the various incidents that Izabel complains of are too disparate and too trivial to plausibly state a claim of a hostile work environment. The government argues that the incidents she identified do not “collectively constitute one unlawful employment practice of pervasive, insulting, discriminatory conduct” that is sufficiently abusive to merit relief. Id. at 24 (quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 117). This includes the “disparaging remarks” that Izabel heard from her supervisors, which “do not demonstrate a sufficient level of offensiveness.”

The Court disagrees. Izabel alleges that she was subjected to “[t]aunt[ing] and mock[ing] … numerous times each week” by her supervisor based on her race and sex from May 2020 until her firing in January 2021. She alleges that she was told by her supervisor that “she was nasty,” that “he hates working with women,” and was made “fun of … in the presence of her male … coworkers” from November 18, 2020 until her dismissal in January 2021. She alleges that, as a result of these incidents, she suffered “mental anguish,” including “frequent crying fits,” “frequent nightmares,” and “chronic anxiety.”

Based on these allegations, a reasonable jury could conclude that Izabel was subjected to sufficiently severe and pervasive insult and ridicule such that the conditions of her employment were abusive. See, e.g., Parris v. Becerra, No. 20-cv-3363 (CJN), 2022 WL 306193, at *5 (D.D.C. Feb. 2, 2022) (plaintiff stated plausible claim for hostile work environment based on being called an “angry black man” and other racial stereotypes). To be sure, the government argues that the “taunting and mocking” that Izabel complains of were not “sufficiently severe” to make her day-to-day work environment objectively “abusive.” See ECF No. 27 at 9 (quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 117). But the out-of-circuit cases the government relies on involved a different procedural posture or set of facts than those at issue here. For example, the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in Webb-Edwards v. Orange Cnty. Sheriff’s Office, 525 F.3d 1013 (11th Cir. 2008), was decided at the summary judgment stage, rather the motion to dismiss one. As for Gurley v. David H. Berg & Assoc., No. 20-cv-9998 (ER), 2022 WL 309442 (S.D.N.Y. 2022), there the plaintiff’s allegations were “more episodic than continuous and concerted.” Here, in contrast, the allegedly taunting remarks directed at Izabel were sufficiently pervasive and severe to objectively alter the conditions of her employment.

[Citations omitted.]

The court further explained, however, that beyond these taunting remarks, the additional events alleged by plaintiff were “simply too unrelated to each other to support a hostile work environment claim, which cannot, therefore be based on those events.”

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