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Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp. - 609 F.3d 537 (2d Cir. 2010)

Rule:

In the hostile work environment context, a rational juror may permissibly find that a reasonable employee would view any serious death threat or threat of physical harm as sufficiently severe to alter the employee's working conditions and create an abusive environment. Even such threats communicated in jest, if made repeatedly, may reasonably be viewed as sufficiently severe.

Facts:

Plaintiff Sharon Kaytor was employed by defendant Electric Boat Corporation ("EBC"). Kaytor alleged that a supervisor, after she spurned his sexual advances, made explicit or implicit references to her "ass" or genitalia, stared at her body, and meant a gift of a *** willow bush to be sexual in nature. She further alleged that the supervisor had said that he wanted to choke her on at least six occasions, told her he would like to see her in her coffin on six other occasions, and told her he wanted to kill her on three or four occasions. Kaytor eventually complained to human resources and was transferred. Thereafter, Kaytor filed a lawsuit against EBC in federal district court alleging EBC discriminated against her on the basis of gender by maintaining a hostile work environment and retaliated against her for complaining about sexual harassment by her supervisor, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and state law. EBC filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the district court. Kaytor appealed.

Issue:

Did the district court err by granting EBC's motion for summary judgment?

Answer:

Yes, in part.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the district court insofar as it dismissed Kaytor's claims of retaliatory termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The appellate court vacated the judgment insofar as it dismissed Kaytor's claims of hostile work environment and pre-termination retaliation, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The appellate court found that, as to the hostile work environment claims, the supervisor's violent comments should not have been excluded since a rational juror could permissibly infer from his sexual comments that his physical threats were also motivated by Kaytor's sex. Moreover, Kaytor sufficiently showed, both subjectively and objectively, that because of her gender, she was subjected to an abusive environment that altered her working conditions.

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