Pryor v. United Air Lines, Inc., No. 14-1442 (4th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, an African-American flight attendant, filed suit alleging that United Airlines failed to adequately respond to a racist death threat left in her company mailbox. The district court concluded that plaintiff was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, but granted summary judgment to the airline after deciding that it was not liable for the offensive conduct. The court concluded that the district court properly concluded that a reasonable jury could properly construe the notes at issue as racially-tinged death threats so severe that it does not matter they were not pervasive. The court concluded that the anonymous nature of severe threats or acts of harassment may, in fact, heighten what is required of an employer, particularly in circumstances where the harassment occurs inside a secure space accessible to only company-authorized individuals. In this case, the conduct at issue is some of the most serious imaginable in the workplace – an unmistakable threat of deadly violence against an individual based on her race, occurring in the particularly sensitive space of an airport. Given the severity of the threat, a reasonable jury could find that United’s response was neither prompt nor reasonably calculated to end the harassment. Indeed, a reasonable jury could find that United’s response was instead reluctant and reactive, intended to minimize any disruption to day-to-day operations instead of identifying a perpetrator and deterring future harassment. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings.