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Gender Based Hostile Work Environment Or Cattiness?

by | Dec 15, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Gender Discrimination |

Lawyers often have a way of overcomplicating explanations of the law. In Estevez v. Berkeley Coll., No. 21-1988, 2022 WL 16843460 (2d Cir. Nov. 10, 2022), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge’s Cathy Seibel’s cut to the chase, common sense explanation of whether certain conduct amounted a hostile work environment based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the case, three women employees of Berkeley College, Jimarzarette Estevez, Deanna Mancini, and Diane Mekuli, complained about a female coworker staring as well as often making backhanded compliments about the female worker’s clothes, bodies, and general appearances; a male coworker repetitively joking that room had too much estrogen in it; and that a male supervisor once made that comment may have arguably been interpreted as having a bias against working mothers.

As a reminder, to prevail on a hostile work environment under Title VII, an employee must present evidence that the conduct was so severe and pervasive to offend a reasonable worker to create such an abusive environment as to alter the work conditions. Further, in order for the employer to be liable for the offensive conduct of coworkers, the employee must show that the employer knew about the conduct and did nothing to fix it. Courts have repeatedly held that Title VII was not enacted as a civility code at work to prevent minor or trivial offenses.

Applying this law to the facts of the case, Judge Seibel essentially told the female employees to have a thicker skin. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, holding:

[W]e find nothing improper in the district court’s remark that the “schtick” of the co-worker who made the “too much estrogen” comments “was unfunny and distasteful, but it is the sort of conduct ordinarily greeted with eyerolls or snappy comebacks.” Estevez v. Berkeley College, No. 18-cv-10350 (CS), 2021 WL 3115452, at *16 (S.D.N.Y. July 19, 2021). In so stating, the district court was merely conducting the legally required severe-or-pervasive inquiry and explaining its rationale for why such conduct was too trivial to meaningfully contribute to the Employees’ hostile-work-environment claim.

Estevez at *2. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals then held that the complained of conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to support a hostile-work-environment claim.

Do I have a hostile work environment claim under Title VII?

Figuring out if you are in a hostile work environment based on your gender or sex can be very complicated. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether you may have a claim for a sexually hostile workplace. The best option is for you to get direct legal advice from an employee’s rights law firm that focuses on these types of claims. To do so, you can you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with an attorney from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?).


The hostile work environment materials available at the top of this sexual harassment and gender discrimination blog and on this employment law website are intended to be informational only and do not give you legal advice regarding your particular circumstances. You should contact an employee’s rights attorney to obtain employment law advice with respect to your particular gender discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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