Employment Discrimination Help

What is hostile work environment?

Employment Discrimination Lawyer Alena Shautsova

Employment Discrimination


Hostile work environment is a category that does not have direct definition, but involves legal and factual analysis in each particular case. The law says the following: “To establish a hostile work environment claim under federal and New York state law, a plaintiff must show that her workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. Courts must look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" and should consider the following nonexclusive list of factors: (1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. A plaintiff's evidence, if any, must show that the conduct at issue created an environment that is both objectively and subjectively hostile. The plaintiff must demonstrate not only that she found the environment offensive, but that a reasonable person also would have found the environment to be hostile or abusive.” Bermudez v. City of New York, 783 F. Supp. 2d 560, 578 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).

The court has to look at totality of circumstances to determine if the environment is hostile or abusive.

A hostile work environment for example can be found where a worker is being treated with a hostile attitude; or being singled out and alienated by his/her colleagues because of the supervisor’s or company’s practices ; or where an employee is exposed to ridicule, offensive language or offensive physical touching. Hostile environment, "occurs when an employer's conduct 'has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.'"  Bermudez v. City of New York, 783 F. Supp. 2d 560, 579 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).

It is impossible to list all possible actions that may constitute hostile environment. To express this form of harassment in non-legal terms, one would have to show that he/she is in the environment that alters the normal working conditions and affects the employee.