A federal appeals court in New York has shed light on when simple teasing crosses the line and gives rise to a “hostile” work environment under the law.
A three judge panel for the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit this week overturned the dismissal of a hostile workplace claim filed by a veteran Costco employee with Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
It was a case of first impression for the 2nd Circuit, which joined several other federal circuits in finding that hostile work environment claims are cognizable under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
The plaintiff, Christopher Fox, a 21-year veteran employee at a Costco store in Holbrook, NY, said he began experiencing higher levels of stress after a management change in 2013. He was reprimanded for making inappropriate comments to two female customers and reassigned from a Greeter position to an Assistant Cashier position, where he had less contact with patrons.
In his new position, Fox said, Costco employees began mocking him and made “hut-hut-hike” remarks to mimic Fox’s strategy for avoiding verbal and physical tics. He claimed the abuse was audible to managers, who did nothing.