Hostile Work Environment Claims Dismissed; Comments Invoking “Racial Stereotypes” Did Not Amount to a “Steady Barrage”

In Johnson v. School District of Philadelphia, 2024 WL 1773358 (E.D.Pa. April 24, 2024), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

From the decision:

For racist comments, slurs, and jokes to constitute a hostile work environment, there must be more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity, meaning that instead of sporadic racist slurs, there must be a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments. Racist comments which are sporadic or part of casual conversations do not rise to that level. While the comments in this case invoked racial stereotypes, they fall short of a steady barrage. [S]ee Sherrod v. Phila. Gas Works, 57 F. App’x 68, 75-76 (3d Cir. 2003) (concluding managers’ comments that “the way they [two African-American employees] were eating at their desks, it must be their culture,” and that if those employees did not work, the speaker was “going to sit at their desks with a whip,” were not severe or pervasive); see also, e.g., Woodard v. PHB Die Casting, Civ. No. 04-141, 2005 WL 3093180, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 2005) (granting summary judgment for defendant on a hostile work environment claim where supervisors used racist slurs, but very few comments were directed toward plaintiff in his presence). Accordingly, the motion to dismiss Johnson’s hostile work environment claims will be granted. [Internal quotation marks and citations omitted.]

The court further granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, noting that “it is extremely rare to find conduct in the employment context that will rise to the level of outrageousness necessary to provide a basis for recovery for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress” and that “allegations of racial discrimination, even when coupled with retaliatory conduct, are not sufficiently outrageous conduct to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.” [Internal quotation marks omitted.]

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