Sex, Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claims Against Mt. Sinai Survive Summary Judgment

In Gordon-Mallett v. Mount Sinai Hospitals Group, Inc. et al, 22-cv-1159 (LJL), 2024 WL 1513910 (S.D.N.Y. April 8, 2024), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

As to plaintiff’s claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the New York State Human Rights Law, the court explained:

Plaintiff has established a triable issue as to whether Dr. Dar’s inappropriate behavior towards her created a hostile work environment for purposes of Section 1981 and the NYSHRL. According to Plaintiff’s deposition testimony, Dr. Dar repeatedly made racist and sexist comments expressing his view that African American women are sexually promiscuous. Dkt. No. 53-1 at 28:3–19. He connected that invidious generalization to Plaintiff specifically by asking her multiple times whether a security guard for the Hem/Onc facility was one of her men. Id. at 26:9–12. Dr. Dar also stereotyped Jamaicans by stating that all they do is smoke marijuana and drink rum, id. at 30:24–31:6, 33:17–22, and he ridiculed Plaintiff’s Jamaican accent by imitating her manner of speech on more than ten separate occasions, id. at 31:7–11, 31:29–25, 33:4–15. Dr. Dar humiliated Plaintiff by asking her whether she was on her period when she told him that he had invaded her personal space by grabbing a computer mouse from her. Id. at 162:14–20. And he insulted Plaintiff’s age twice by snapping his fingers at her and threatening to replace her with someone younger if she did not hurry in her work. Id. at 35:3–12, 35:22.

A reasonable jury could find that this stream of “unambiguous[ly]” biased comments from Plaintiff’s collaborating physician was sufficiently pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of her employment in Hem/Onc. Sherman v. Fivesky, LLC, 2020 WL 2136227, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. May 5, 2020). These comments occurred over the course of several months. See Fox, 918 F.3d at 75; Brito v. Marina’s Bakery Corp., 2022 WL 875099, at *13–14 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 2022). And they humiliated and insulted Plaintiff. See Edrisse v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., 757 F. Supp. 2d 381, 387 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). Even considering Dr. Dar’s racially bigoted statements in isolation for purposes of Section 1981, his open expressions of harmful stereotypes and his remarks directly tying those generalization to Plaintiff as an individual were so repeated and degrading as to constitute the kind of “opprobrious racial comments” that can create a hostile work environment. Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Bolden v. PRC Inc., 43 F.3d 545, 551 (10th Cir. 1994)); see also Oliver v. City of New York, 2023 WL 2160062, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2023) (ruling that repeated expressions of unfounded concerns based on racist stereotypes supported a hostile work environment claim); Ward v. Shaddock, 2016 WL 4371752, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 11, 2016) (regular expressions of contempt for African Americans and racist jokes sufficed to state a hostile work environment claim); Nwokoro v. GAWVT Motors, LLC, 2019 WL 13275566, at *12 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 1, 2019) (comments expressing racist stereotypes created a triable issue on a hostile work environment claim). To the extent “[r]easonable jurors [could] disagree about whether these incidents would negatively alter the working conditions of a reasonable employee …, the potential for such disagreement renders summary judgment inappropriate.” Whidbee v. Garzarelli Food Specialties, Inc., 223 F.3d 62, 71 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 439 (2d Cir. 1999)).

The sufficiency of Dr. Dar’s conduct is even clearer under the NYSHRL because “abusive conduct on the basis of multiple protected statuses may be considered together in evaluating a hostile work environment claim.” Delgado v. City of Stamford, 2016 WL 81786, at *2 (D. Conn. Jan. 7, 2016); see Banks, 81 F.4th at 262; Feingold, 366 F.3d at 151–52. Dr. Dar’s reference to Plaintiff’s “menstrual cycle”—combined with his persistent remarks regarding the promiscuity of African American women generally and Plaintiff specifically—“communicated that her gender would always stand as a bar to full acceptance within the workplace.” Petrosino v. Bell Atl., 385 F.3d 210, 224 (2d Cir. 2004). His “pervasive accent mockery” also supports the conclusion that Plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment at Hem/Onc, especially in light of his statements maligning Jamaicans. See Rosas v. Balter Sales Co. Inc., 2018 WL 3199253, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2018); Edwards v. New Opportunities, Inc., 2008 WL 11489009, at *8 (D. Conn. July 1, 2008). Dr. Dar’s statements that he would replace Plaintiff with someone younger, as a “a threat of employment termination[,] could reasonably be viewed as a form of discriminatory intimidation.” Leopold v. Baccarat, Inc., 174 F.3d 261, 269 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Williams, 61 F.4th at 75. A reasonable jury could find those threats particularly “demeaning and disrespectful” because Dr. Dar simultaneously snapped his fingers at Plaintiff to speed her up. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. v. Express Servs., Inc., 2023 WL 2500270, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 14, 2023).

Finally, Plaintiff’s testimony indicates that she subjectively perceived Dr. Dar’s behavior to be insulting and abusive in a manner that a reasonable jury could conclude altered the terms and conditions of her employment. Dkt. No. 46-1 at 26:9–24, 30:24–31:12, 39:24–40:2, 166:2–14, 45:25–46:5, 47:24 –25; see Vucinaj v. N.Y.C. Police Dep’t, 2020 WL 4677597, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 2020); Devers v. SNC-Lavalin Generation, Inc., 2014 WL 4954623, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2014); Wahlstrom v. Metro-N. Commuter R. Co., 89 F. Supp. 2d 506, 520 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Plaintiff has therefore adduced sufficient evidence for her hostile work environment claims under Section 1981 and the NYSHRL to withstand Mount Sinai’s motion for summary judgment.

And, having found triable issues of fact as to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under Section 1981 and the New York State Human Rights Law, it necessarily found that she has done the same under the New York City Human Rights Law’s more lenient standard.

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