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Home / Expert Opinion / Workplace Issues: Threats aimed at women create hostile work environment

Workplace Issues: Threats aimed at women create hostile work environment

Lindy Korn

Lindy Korn

The Court of Appeals has reinstated a hostile work environment claim where a male supervisor treated everyone poorly, but treating the women worse, Castagna v. Lucerno, 13-0796-cv, decided March 5, Summary Order.

In this case, the defendant “directed physical threats at three female employees, including Castagna, on separate occasions, but he never physically threatened men. Under our precedents, such evidence of physical threats is highly probative of the severity of the alleged hostile work environment. … The lack of any evidence that Lucerno physically threatened men — as opposed to women — supports a reasonable inference that Lucerno singled out women for physical threats because of their sex.”

The District Court ruling summarizes the plaintiff’s testimony that the male supervisor was horrible to men as well:

• “while Castagna alleges that it was only the female employees of Majestic that were subjected to Lucerno’s verbal abuse, she has submitted substantial evidence, including her own testimony, tending to show that Majestic’s male employees were not spared Lucerno’s temper.”

The Court of Appeals finds the physical threats aimed at only women could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that Castagna’s workplace was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insults, which were severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment,” see Petrosino v. Bell Atlantic, 385 F. 3d 210, 223 (2c Cir. 2004), and that a hostile work environment existed because of Castagna’s sex, see Brown v. Henderson, 257 F. 3d 246, 252, 2d Cir. 2001.

The Court of Appeals uses the physically threatening nature of a supervisor’s action as bringing the case over the line, separating merely offensive or boorish conduct, from actionable conduct. The court emphasizes its precedent that such evidence of physical threats is highly probative of the severity of alleged hostile work environment (see Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp., 609 F. 3d 537, 550, 2d Cir. 2010).

The record was also replete with evidence that Lucerno’s most extreme outburst were directed at women. The court held that given the gender-explicit content of several of these outburst, including but not limited to referring to other women as “bitches,” the district court erred in concluding that no reasonable jury could find that Castagna was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her sex.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals is saying that even though the defendant yelled at men and women that does not mean the abuse was not gender-based, as only women were subjected to physical threats.

The physical threats were deemed to affect terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, creating a hostile work environment.

Lindy Korn practices at The Law Office of Lindy Korn and can be reached at lkk75atty@aol.com or (716) 856-KORN (5676).