Some employees believe that a lawsuit exists simply because an employer maintains a “hostile work environment.” That notion is far too sweeping, though. What the law prohibits – and more specifically what Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits – is a hostile work environment based upon the victim’s presence in a protected class such as race or gender. Simply because a boss may be abusive is not enough to sustain a hostile work environment claim. What is needed is evidence that the actions of the boss are directed towards, and only towards, a protected class.
This distinction was recently learned by Roslyn Inman, a corrections officer for the New York City Department of Correction. Inman filed a hostile work environment lawsuit in federal court, citing the treatment she had received at the hands of Deputy Warden Carmine LaBruzzo.
The Court dismissed the lawsuit, finding “Inman’s claims are based on the following conduct by LaBruzzo: (1) LaBruzzo referred to the supervisory staff as ‘loads,’ as in ‘loads of shit,’ and called them ‘lazy’; (2) he threatened to send his supervisors back to Rikers Island if they failed to comply with his orders; (3) he did not return the salutes of his African-American captains; and (4) he removed the refrigerator from the captains’ lounge.
“Inman testified in her deposition that when LaBruzzo referred to Captains as ‘loads’ and ‘lazy,’ he was referring to all of the Captains, not only the African-American Captains. Inman also testified that LaBruzzo failed to return the salutes of anyone, not just his African-American captains. Although Inman alleges that LaBruzzo was a harsh and rude boss, there is not a scintilla of evidence in the record to suggest that his behavior was racially motivated.”
Inman v. City of New York, 2011 WL 4344015 (S.D. N.Y. 2011).
This article appears in the December 2011 issue.