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Court Explains Establishing a Hostile Work Environment Under New York Law

January 21, 2021

Many workplaces present issues for employees, such as co-workers with offensive opinions or overbearing personalities. There are times, however, when a work environment transcends merely being challenging and becomes hostile, such as when an employee is subject to repeated discriminatory actions and comments. The differences between unpleasant and hostile work environments were explained in a recent New York opinion, in a case alleging discrimination based on age and race. If you are subject to continued injustice in the workplace, you may be able to pursue claims against your employer, and it is prudent to speak with a New York hostile work environment attorney to evaluate your options.

The Plaintiff’s Allegations

It is alleged that the plaintiff, who is a black woman in her fifties, worked as a teacher for the defendant. When a new supervisor started in 2015, she began receiving negative reviews, was targeted for excessive supervision due to her race and age, and was subject to several events that created progressive hostility. She eventually asked for and received a reassignment. She then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging claims of a hostile work environment and discrimination based on age and race. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, in part, that the plaintiff failed to establish the elements of a hostile work environment claim.

Establishing a Hostile Work Environment Under New York Law

The court explained that courts are wary of setting the bar too high in hostile work environment claims. Thus, a plaintiff merely needs to plead facts that are adequate to support a conclusion she faced harassment of such a quantity or severity that a reasonable person would find it detrimentally altered the conditions of her employment in order to withstand summary judgment.

The court noted that laws against discrimination are not intended to create a code of general civility, and a few isolated incidents of offensive or rude behavior will generally not establish a hostile work environment. Instead, a court must look at the totality of the circumstances, including the severity and frequency of the conduct complained of, whether it merely consists of statements or is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with the person’s work performance.

In the subject case, the court ultimately found that the plaintiff failed to allege facts that would establish harassment that was so severe it created a hostile work environment. To the extent she alleged increased scrutiny because of her age, the court noted that excessive criticism does not create a hostile work environment. Further, the court noted that while the plaintiff alleged a few questionable comments were made in her presence, this was insufficient to establish discriminatory intent. Thus, her claims were dismissed.

Meet With an Experienced Employment Attorney in New York

If you are subject to continued harassment at work, you might be able to file a lawsuit against your employer, and you should meet with a lawyer as soon as possible. The experienced employment attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP are adept at helping people harmed by a hostile work environment seek compensation, and we can aid you in pursuit of the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact us through our online form or at our Manhattan office at (212) 227-7070 or our Garden City office at (516) 880-8170 to schedule a conference.

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