Our Appellate Division recently made clear it would not be receptive to sex based hostile work environment claims where it is established that the Plaintiff “gave as good as she got” while working in an environment rife with foulmouthed name calling and invectives. In Bouziotis v. Iron Bar, 2022 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 635, at *2 (App. Div. Apr. 19, 2022) an appellate court affirmed a trial court’s decision to grant the employer’s motion for summary judgement against a former female employee who alleged she was the victim of a hostile work environment based on her sex.
In September 2016 the Plaintiff-Employee, Lauren Bouziotis (“Bouziotis”) started working as a part-time bartender for Defendant-Employer Iron Bar (“Iron Bar”). Id. Shortly thereafter, Iron Bar’s part owner, Darrell Remlinger (“Remlinger”) stopped addressing Bouziotis by her proper name and instead started referring to her by “alternate names” used to describe someone with an oversized posterior or buttocks area. Id. Curiously, the court felt that it would be too insensitive of it to actually state in its written decision what the “alternate name” used was.
Specifically, Remlinger used “alternative names” to refer to Bouziotis when publishing the weekly schedule, as well as on six out of forty of Bouziotis’s pay envelopes. In February 2017 Bouziotis complained about Remlinger calling her “alternate names” to General Manager Dave Monllor (“Monllor”), who also reported to Remlinger. Over the course of a year Bouziotis had complained approximately complained thirty (30) times to Monllor. However, Bouziotis never directly asked Remlinger to stop addressing her by these “alternate names.” In May 2018, Bouziotis submitted her two-week notice and a letter of resignation. Bouziotis’s resignation letter failed to state a reason for her resignation nor did the letter make any mention of Bouziotis’s belief she was the victim of sex discrimination. Afterwards, Bouziotis nevertheless proceeded to file a lawsuit against Iron Bar. Bouziotis alleged in her filed complaint that she was the victim of discrimination and wrongful termination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and aiding and abetting harassment under the LAD. Id. at *3. Ironbar answered and subsequently moved for summary judgement as a matter of law against Bouziotis’s claim. Id.
The trial court granted Iron Bar’s motion for summary judgment finding that “the competent evidential materials submitted by the parties show that there are no genuine issues of material fact.” Id. at *6. In support of its motion for summary judgment, Iron Bar produced certified witness statements of five employees who worked with Bouziotis stating to have witnessed her regularly make vile comments and use vulgar language at work. Id. According to Iron Bar’s witnesses, Bouziotis would curse, tell sexual jokes, dance inappropriately, and pose in provocative pictures with coworkers. Most importantly, Bouziotis was witnessed targeting Remlinger himself by calling him a variety of inappropriate names, which he considered to be nothing more than a mere joke. Id. at *7. In response to Iron Bar’s motion for summary judgment, Bouziotis failed to produce any witness statements of her own to contradict Iron Bar’s evidence. Id. Furthermore, when Bouziotis was deposed she was asked if she engaged in any of the misconduct alleged above. Id. Bouziotis answered testifying “she could not recall.” Id. Hence the trial court granted Iron Bar’s motion for summary judgment against Bouziotis and found she failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and wrongful termination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Id. Bouziotis appealed. Id.
On appeal, the trial court’s decision was affirmed. Id. at 13. The appellate court reasoned Bouziotis was not a victim of a hostile work environment based on her sex because Remlinger used the “alternative name” in a gender-neutral fashion, using it to refer to both male and female employees. Id. at 12. Additionally, the appellate court found that the use of alternative names did not unreasonably interfere with Bouziotis’s work performance because she herself would utter vulgar epithets to her coworkers and even Remlinger himself, that were far more inappropriate and unacceptable compared to anything Remlinger ever stated to anyone working at Iron Bar. Id. at *13. For these reasons, the appellate court concluded that Bouziotis could not prevail on her claim of sex-based discrimination under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination because of her own offensive and inappropriate conduct at Iron Bar and as a matter of law ‘[w]here the plaintiff contributes the same type of conduct of which he or she is complaining to the employer’s work environment… plaintiff could not find the work environment hostile or abusive.’” Id.
If you or someone you know is the victim of a discriminatory based hostile work environment, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help. Mashel Law, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, is dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.