In the case of Hubbard v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 2008 WL 464694 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2008), currently pending in the Southern District of New York, the plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that they were subjected to a hostile work environment because they were African-American. The plaintiffs recounted a two-year period where they were given demeaning tasks, while their white co-workers were not, and where their co-workers posted pictures of a blurry black woman and a picture of two monkeys, referring to the plaintiffs.
The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, in a motion for summary judgment, claiming that not all of the acts could be considered “discrimination,” since they did not reference the plaintiffs’ race. The court denied the defendant’s motion holding that “[w]hile not every allegation bespeaks of overt racial animus,” sufficient evidence existed for a jury to find that the acts were motivated by race discrimination.
The court’s decision in Hubbard reaffirms that merely because particular conduct may not directly reference race, it still may be motivated by race and serve as the basis for a race discrimination claim. Instead, courts will look to “the totality of the circumstances” to determine if conduct is based on race, even where the conduct itself does not implicate race.