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April 26, 2011

Employee’s claims of disparate treatment on the basis of gender, sexual harassment and retaliation by the employer dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence

Employee’s claims of disparate treatment on the basis of gender, sexual harassment and retaliation by the employer dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence
Grovesteen v New York State Pub. Employees Fedn., AFL-CIO, 2011 NY Slip Op 03168, Appellate Division, Third Department

Robin Grovesteen was employed as a field representative by the New York State Public Employees Federation, a union representing various professional, scientific and technical employees of New York State, among others.

Grovesteen sued the Federation, alleging “disparate treatment on the basis of gender, sexual harassment and retaliation.” Supreme Court dismissed her petition and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s action.

With respect to her claims of disparate treatment claim, Grovesteen alleged that because of her gender, she was, among other things, denied separate office space, required to conduct excessive training sessions, forced to cover work assignments in other regions, and denied direction, assistance and support from her supervisors.

As to her claims related to sexual harassment, Grovesteen said that the director of field services at the time she was hired, who eventually became her direct supervisor, made disparaging sexual remarks about her at the onset of her employment and that the elected regional coordinator in her region, who was a union member, created a sexually hostile environment by, among other things, voicing his opinion that plaintiff was hired because of her sexual relationship with another field representative and making inappropriate comments about her attire.

Lastly, Grovesteen contended that due to her disability and exercise of her rights under the Human Rights Law, the Federation retaliated against her by, among other things, closing the Region 7 office and contesting her claim for workers' compensation benefits.

The Appellate Division found that notwithstanding the fact that Grovesteen was a woman and thus a member of a protected class, the evidence she presented was insufficient to establish a prima facie case of sexual discrimination or harassment.

The court explained that “Even considering the totality of the alleged incidents in a light most favorable to [Grovesteen], the terms and conditions of her employment, which clearly caused her stress and frustration, were not so severe and pervasive as to create an adverse employment action in support of her claim of disparate treatment based on gender.

Turning to Grovesteen’s contention with respect to a hostile work environment, the Appellate Division said that there was not sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the conduct so permeated the workplace and altered the conditions of her employment as to support the claim of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment. Further, said the court, although Grovesteen’s allegations demonstrate “the existence of personality conflicts and disagreements with the management's style, as well as the inherent demands and autonomous nature of being the only field representative in a large remote geographic region, the record does not demonstrate any material adverse change in her employment as a result of the alleged conduct warranting the inference of a discriminatory motivation.”

As to Grovesteen’s claim of retaliation, the Appellate Division ruled this aspect of her petition was also properly dismissed. Here, said the court, Grovesteen’s “sporadic complaints” during her employment are insufficient to establish that she was engaged in a protected activity, “particularly given the fact that no formal claim of unlawful discrimination was made until after the allegedly retaliatory action occurred.”

Finally, the court rejected Grovesteen’s argument that the Federation’s challenging her application for workers’ compensation benefits constituted retaliation within the meaning of the Human Rights Law, indicating that “an employer's exercise of its right to challenge a workers' compensation claim cannot be linked to a retaliatory motivation.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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