A New York court has ruled that certain “annoyances” following the end of a workplace romance do not equal unlawful harassment. Conklin v. Suffolk County (E.D.N.Y. 2012).
James Conklin began a relationship with Board of Elections employee Denise Wilson before he also came to work for the county. Conklin and Wilson had a “tumultuous relationship” for approximately two years, culminating in an incident where Wilson had a car accident seeking to escape Conklin and Conklin was charged with harassment and reckless endangerment.
Conklin avoided Wilson after the accident, but alleged that Wilson began harassing him by repeatedly entering his work area to use the copy machine, refrigerator, phone, and water cooler. Conklin complained and Wilson was told to avoid his work space, but she failed to follow this instruction and was not disciplined. The county later transferred Conklin for improper computer use and ultimately terminated him for poor attendance.
The court rejected Conklin’s resulting harassment claim, finding that Wilson’s alleged conduct was “at most, objectively annoying” and “too trivial” to constitute harassment. The court also held that Conklin had not shown that Wilson’s conduct was based on sex, but rather as a result of the failed relationship. And, the court found “convenient” that Conklin began feeling harassed by Wilson the day after their relationship soured.
The court, however, allowed Conklin’s retaliation claim to go forward against the county. The court found “particularly suspicious” the fact that Conklin was transferred for improper computer use the day after his complaint. The court was also suspicious of the county’s decision to act on Conklin’s poor attendance record following his complaint about Wilson, as his attendance had been consistently poor for some time.