Liberal Standard for Hostile Work Environment Claims Under the New York City Human Rights Law

Sexual Harassment – New York City A group of female plaintiffs alleged that the defendant, a doctor, created a sexually hostile work environment in violation of the New York State and City Law.  Plaintiffs claimed that the doctor sent them, as well as other employees (both male and female), offensive emails, and made various sexual comments and gestures toward them, including remarks regarding their breasts. The lower court granted the doctor’s motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the doctor’s conduct would be equally offensive to male and female employees. On appeal, the appellate court held that a jury could reasonably determine that the defendant sent the emails to provoke a reaction from women in the office, and that the plaintiffs were singled out from male employees. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs’ evidence fell short of meeting the severe and pervasive standard required to state a claim under the New York State Law, but that under the City Law, questions of severity and pervasiveness are irrelevant. Accordingly, the appellate court held that the plaintiffs’ claim survived because the doctor’s conduct, even if “isolated,” signaled that the doctor considered it appropriate to foster an office environment that degraded women.  The court therefore reinstated the plaintiffs’ claim under the City Law.  The case is Hernandez v. Kaisman, No. 104989/07 (1st Dep’t Dec. 27, 2012).

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