new york hostile work environment

Frequently Asked Questions about New York Hostile Work Environment

Simple Q&A on New York Hostile Work Environment Law

Q: How Bad Does it Have to Be? A: Really bad. To win a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff has to prove that that his or her workplace was “so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of her employment were thereby altered.” Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 373-74 (2d Cir. 2002). In other words, the inappropriate conduct has to be more than a minor issue at work and must have significantly changed your working conditions. Keep in mind, whether or not working conditions have been changed is determined from the standard of a reasonable person. The court will ask, “what would a ‘reasonable person’ think of this situation?”

Q: What is a “reasonable person”? A: A “reasonable person” can vary with the judge. The concept is meant to approximate what an average person would do in the plaintiff’s situation.

Q: Is One Instance Sufficient? A: It can be, but it has to be really bad. A Plaintiff must show “either that a single incident was extraordinarily severe, or that a series of incidents were sufficiently continuous and concerted to have altered the conditions of her working environment.” Cruz v. Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 570 (2d Cir. 2000). The key is that the working environment has been altered as a result of the conduct.

Q: What About Many Small Things Over Time? A: Same answer as above. If the many small things impact the working environment, they may amount to a hostile work environment. However the series of incidents must be “more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.” Perry v. Ethan Allen, Inc., 115 F.3d 143, 149 (2d Cir. 1997).

Q: What Factors Do Courts Consider? A: The factors courts examine include “the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993).

Q: Does the Conduct Have to be Discriminatory? A: Yes. For example, a plaintiff cannot bring a hostile work environment claim based on race when the conduct had nothing to do with race. The conduct does not, however, have to be directed at the plaintiff. A hostile work environment claim can be brought based on discriminatory treatment of others.

More questions?  Contact us for a free consultation about New York Hostile Work Environment Law.

Should I Sue My Employer?

Should I sue my employer?  Maybe. Speaking in very general terms, there are three major categories of laws protecting employees. These categories are: (1) discrimination law, (2) leave law, and (3) wage payment law. Below is a very brief discussion of each:

  1. Discrimination: Discrimination against individuals on the basis of their membership in a protected class is illegal. Protected classes include: gender, race, disability, age, national origin, religion and others. It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on their protected status. The discrimination can be failure to hire, decisions related to pay, discipline and decisions to terminate employment. The principle is that you cannot be treated differently than similarly situated employees on the basis of your protected status.
  2. Leave: Certain employees are entitled to leave by state and/or federal law. If you are entitled to leave, it is illegal for your employer to interfere with your leave, or retaliate against you for taking leave.
  3. Wages: There are also many wage payment laws which govern how your employer must pay your wages. These laws relate to payment of overtime lawful deductions from wages, and what constitutes “work” such that you have to be compensated.

If you are having issues with your employer, you should speak to an employment lawyer. You may have a viable lawsuit against your employer, and a good employment lawyer can help guide you in reviewing your situation.

should I sue my employer?
should I sue my employer?

Using the 'N' Word Illegal At Work

Jury Agrees Use of N-Word by Black Employer Creates Hostile Work Environment for Black Employee.

Alex Granovsky appears on Dealin’ Straight Radio Show

Brandi Johnson, a 38 year old black woman from New York, was recently awarded a $280,000 verdict in her hostile work environment claim which was heard in a Manhattan federal court. Johnson was awarded $30,000 in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damages after the jury agreed with Plaintiff that her boss’ use of the N-word in a workplace tirade was hostile and discriminatory in nature. Johnson’s complaint comes after the founder of East Harlem STRIVE, Rob Carmona, a black male, repeatedly disparaged her with the use of the N-word and other harsh statements during a 4-minute long berating.

Carmona, the founder of STRIVE, defended his actions, testifying that his verbiage was merely tough love with no discriminatory intent. In fact, Carmona referenced “multiple contexts” in his defense, stating the black and Latino communities use the N-word in affectionate contexts.

Johnson testified during the trial that Carmona’s tirade left her feeling offended, hurt and degraded. Johnson she cried for 45 minutes following Carmona’s rant, feeling embarrassed and disrespected. To Johnson’s benefit, she recorded the March 2012 tirade, in which Carmona repeatedly used the N-word. Johnson’s attorney, Marjorie M. Sharpe, played the recording during the trial, allowing the jury to hear for themselves the language used by Carmona to Johnson and to determine whether or not Carmona’s actions were discriminatory and hostile in nature.

Carmona reiterated his sentiment in regards to his intentions of the use of the N-word, stating, "I come from a different time," where “tough love” and “tough words,” including the N-word, were accepted as motivators.

Believing that Carmona used the N-word and create a hostile work environment, jurors awarded Johnson with a favorable verdict. Although some will argue that the N-word is acceptable in certain contexts, the jury verdict reiterates the very offensive nature of using the N-word, especially in a working and professional environment.

If you feel you have been the victim of harassment or discrimination in New York, contact our New York employment law office today.