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Court Discusses Hostile Work Environment Claims Under New York Law

February 4, 2020

Under the laws of the State and New York City, people are protected from discrimination based on their religion. Thus, if a person is discriminated against in the workplace due to his or her religious identity, and it creates a hostile work environment, the person’s employer may be held liable. The mere identification as a member of a certain religion is insufficient to sustain a hostile work environment claim, however. Rather, a plaintiff alleging a hostile work environment on the basis of religious discrimination must show that the alleged discriminatory conduct rose to a certain level for the conduct to be actionable.

Recently, a New York appellate court discussed a plaintiff’s burden of proof in a hostile work environment case under both the New York State (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), in a case in which the plaintiff alleged discrimination on the basis of his religion. If you believe you were the victim of a hostile work environment, it is wise to speak with a trusted New York hostile work environment attorney to discuss whether you may have a viable claim against your employer.

Factual Background of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff, who is Jewish, was employed as a firefighter by the defendant city. He filed a complaint with the equal employment office of the defendant, alleging discrimination on the basis of his religion, but the office determined his complaints to be unsubstantiated. He then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging employment discrimination and hostile work environment claims on the basis of his religion in violation of the NYSHRL and NYCHRL. Specifically, he alleged that one of his co-workers made an anti-Semitic comment and that after he complained about the comment, he was subject to several instances of retaliation, which created a hostile work environment. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court granted. The plaintiff then appealed.

Proving a Hostile Work Environment Under the NYSHRL and NYCHRL

Discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited by both the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL. The burden of proof imposed on a plaintiff alleging discrimination that created a hostile work environment differs under each law. Specifically, under the NYSHRL, a plaintiff alleging a hostile work environment due to discrimination must show that the workplace was rife with ridicule, discriminatory intimidation, and insults that were so sufficiently pervasive or severe that it altered the condition of the plaintiff’s employment, thereby creating an abusive working environment.

Conversely, a plaintiff alleging a hostile work environment under the NYCHRL must merely show that he or she was treated less favorably than others because of the protected characteristic. The alleged conduct, however, must surpass what a reasonable discrimination victim would consider trivial inconveniences. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof under either statute. As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet With a Seasoned New York Employment Attorney

If you are forced to endure in a hostile work environment, you should meet with a New York hostile work environment attorney to discuss your potential damages. The seasoned employment attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP have the skills and experience required to help you pursue a favorable result, and we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can reach us at (212) 227-7070 for our Manhattan office or (516) 880-8170 for our Garden City office, or via our form online, to set up a confidential and complimentary meeting.

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