Written by attorney Vincent Peter White

Hostile Work Environment Standards under the New York city Human Rights Law

Credit for this goes to Akin and Gump, link to the original article from which this excerpt comes is below the break. Their research perfectly explains the changes for victim's benefit that have occurred over the past several years.

In Williamsv. The New York City Housing Authority, [1] the Appellate Division, First Department established a new, lower threshold for establishing hostile work environment claims under the city’s anti-discrimination statute, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

Under federal and state law, an employee claiming a hostile work environment must show employer conduct that is “severe or pervasive" in nature. [2] This standard long has been applied to claims under the NYCHRL as well. According to Williams, however, the “severe or pervasive" standard does not apply to NYCHRL claims arising after the effective date of the city’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005. [3] Rather, once an employee shows that she was “treated less well than other employees because of her gender," the burden shifts to the employer to show that the conduct at issue was no more than a “petty slight" or “trivial inconvenience." [4]

One recent decision has applied Williams to reconsider and then reverse an earlier grant of summary judgment for a defendant. In its initial decision, the court in Dixon v. City of New York [5] had dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, finding an alleged one-time grabbing of plaintiff’s arm and a threat to hurt plaintiff insufficiently severe or pervasive to be actionable. The court reversed itself in light of Williams, however, finding that “a reasonable trier of fact could construe such a threat of physical violence as something more than a petty slight or trivial inconvenience."

Where no threat of violence is involved, however, courts have continued to apply the NYCHRL in a way that screens out sporadic offensive remarks and taunts. In Wilsonv. The New York Post, [6] for example, the plaintiffs complained that supervisors made several derogatory comments about women and African-Americans and that inappropriate photos and graffiti were present in the workplace. Applying Williams, the court ruled that “no reasonable fact finder could conclude that the alleged conduct amounts to more than . . . petty slights and inconveniences." [7]

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