The Court of Appeals holds that a female field technician who was given unequal working assignments and discipline at Verizon can sue for a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender.
The case is Pucino v. Verizon, decided on August 13. Bergstein & Ullrich, LLP, represents the successful plaintiff, whose case gives the Court of Appeals (Raggi, Winter and Livingston) an opportunity to clarify when the word "bitch" can support a hostile work environment claim.
Normally, hostile work environment cases involve explicit sexual harassment in the form of groping, sexual comments, etc. But these cases can also allege that the plaintiff suffered a hostile work environment on the basis of severe or pervasive gender discrimination that has nothing to do with sex. That is what happened here. Unlike her male co-workers, Pucino was subjected "to disparately harsh working conditions." Contrary to procedure, she was sent by herself to dangerous neighborhoods, given unequal assignments, tools and equipment and discipline. The male-dominated workplace also went bananas when they found out that Pucino complained about this discrimination to the company's EEO office, and someone put a dead snake in her truck in retaliation.
Verbal harassment by Pucino's superiors also created a sex-based hostile environment. Two male supervisors constantly called Pucino a bitch. This word is not always gender-specific ("Son of a bitch" is not sexist) but it usually is. This issue is for the jury. The Second Circuit holds that "we ... have no doubt that such a trier could find that [the supervisor's] 'constant' use of the word over several years in the context of the present record was sex-based and reflected hostility to women."
Pucino cannot win the case unless she was abused on the basis of her gender enough times to create a hostile work environment. Like many harassment plaintiffs, the harassment happens too often for Pucino to say exactly when all the abuse happened. Citing Torres v. Pisano, 116 F.3d 625 (2d Cir. 1997), the Court reminds us that "a plaintiff ... need not recount each and every instance of abuse to show pervasiveness." The Court concludes, "Pucino's evidence fits within the Torres precedent. She has described the nature of the alleged abuse in some detail. Although she omitted specifics as to the date and circumstances of each instance of abuse, her testimony was corroborated by other witnesses." Summary judgment reversed, and the case is remanded for trial.