Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claims, Based on Alleged Use of “Terms of Endearment”, Survive Dismissal

In Williams v. Breaking Ground Housing Development Fund Corporation et al, 22-cv-8715 (AS), 2024 WL 2882122 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2024), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

In sum, plaintiff alleges (among other things) that he was terminated – without an investigation – after being falsely accused of sexual harassment by a partner organization’s employee (Cologne), and that it was in fact Cologne who harassed him.

From the decision:

Liberally construed, Williams’s complaint also alleges discrimination on the basis of sex, that is, sexual harassment that resulted in a hostile work environment. “To establish a hostile work environment under Title VII, … a plaintiff must show that the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 320 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants say that Williams’s hostile-work-environment claim must be dismissed because the factual allegations—that Williams “was improperly terminated because he was falsely accused of inappropriately touching a female colleague”—“do not satisfy any of the elements for showing a hostile work environment.” Dkt. 37 at 8. But those are not the relevant factual allegations for the hostile-work-environment claim; rather, the key factual allegations are that Cologne called him “love,” “baby,” or “honey” for almost two months, and that Wagner laughed him off when he complained of this conduct.

The court concluded that since “Defendants entirely fail to address those allegations or explain why they are insufficient as a matter of law to state a hostile-work-environment claim under federal, state, and local law, the motion to dismiss the hostile-work-environment claims is denied.”

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