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New York Federal Court Allows Sexual Orientation Hostile Environment Claim

Christopher Rosalie worked for Supreme Glass Company, Inc. (Supreme) for just under three years. Hired by the company president, Rosalie was open about his sexual orientation and gender throughout his employment. He identified as “gay and gender non-conforming.” Rosalie’s work environment significantly changed when Jacqueline Miranda-Lorenzo (Miranda) became his supervisor. She allegedly treated him differently than his co-workers by bullying him, singling him out, disciplining him publicly, and chastising him for small errors. When Rosalie shared that he did not identify as male or female, Miranda responded, “You’re a man!” Miranda later told Rosalie that she believed “being gay was a mental disorder” and referred to being gay as a “genetic disorder.” The president of the company purportedly also made stereotypical comments regarding homosexuals. In one text, the president stated, “I just passed by your favorite streets-Christopher and Gay Street.” Rosalie complained several times; his complaints culminated in a threat of termination unless he improved his performance.

Supreme argued the conduct described by Rosalie failed to meet Title VII’s legal standard for a hostile work environment. To meet that standard, the alleged conduct must be “severe or pervasive.” The company claimed that Rosalie misconstrued Miranda’s comments, which were too “isolated” to create a cause of action. 

The federal district court disagreed, concluding that a jury could find sufficient evidence that Supreme created a hostile work environment. Hearing Miranda telling Rosalie that being gay was “mental” and a “genetic disorder,” making fun of him for playing the “victim card,” and misidentifying his gender while routinely demeaning him in front of others, a jury could find it was sufficient.  A jury may also conclude that the president’s comments contributed to the environment. The court noted that the allegations may not be “egregious,” but “the line between boorish and inappropriate behavior and actionable harassment is admittedly indistinct.” The federal district court denied summary judgment.