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Fired for Discrimination Complaint: Wrongful Termination Suit Fails to Survive Motion to Dismiss

     The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s decision to grant a motion to dismiss a lawsuit when the Plaintiff, Lisa Green-Hayes (“Green-Hayes”) failed to properly state a claim for retaliatory wrongful termination.[1]  In her complaint, Green-Hayes alleged she was subjected to the “discriminatory employment practices and … attitude of [defendant]” when he refused to hire women for certain positions, paid women and minorities less than other employees, and told her not to hire women based on certain physical criteria.  Green-Hayes argued she was terminated from her employment in reprisal for engaging in the protected activity of complaining to the Defendant, Handcrafted Homes, LLC (“Handcrafted Homes”), about the company’s treatment of women and minorities and her low salary.

 

     A motion to dismiss a complaint under N.C. Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint.”[2]  In ruling on the motion, the court “must determine as a matter of law whether the allegations state a claim for which relief may be granted.”[3]  A Complaint should not be dismissed “unless it appears to a certainty that [the] plaintiff is entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of the claim.”[4]

 

     In the instant case, Green-Hayes cited two N.C. Court of Appeals decisions in the Complaint to support her argument that a common law cause of action for retaliatory discharge exists when an employee is terminated in retaliation for complaining about discrimination in the workplace.[5]  However, in both of the cited cases, the Plaintiffs filed official wrongful discharge claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Their suits survived because a retaliatory firing based on an employee’s filing a claim of discrimination violates public policy and is a direct statutory violation.[6]

 

     Unlike the cited cases, Green-Hayes’ Complaint “did not allege the defendant’s conduct violated a specific statutory provision or a recognized exception to the State’s employment-at-will doctrine,” since she did not file an official complaint with the EEOC or elsewhere.[7]  Furthermore, the Complaint did not allege that Handcrafted Homes encouraged her to violate any law resulting in harm to the public, or that she was the subject of such discriminatory comments.  While Green-Hayes did claim she was paid less than her white male predecessors, the Complaint did not allege a specific statutory violation by Handcrafted Homes.  For the foregoing reasons, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld Handcrafted Homes’ motion to dismiss.

 

 

[1] Green-Hayes v. Handcrafted Homes, LLC, ___ N.C. App. ____, ___ (2015).

[2] Stanback v. Stanback, 297 N.C. 181, 185, 254 S.E.2d 611, 615 (1981).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Bigelow v. Town of Chapel Hill, ___ N.C. App. ____, 745 S.E.2d 316 (2013); and Brewer v. Cabarrus Plastics, Inc., 130 N.C. App. 681, 690, 504 S.E.2d 580, 586 (1998).

[6] See, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-241(a)(1) (2014) (“No person shall discriminate or take any retaliatory action against an employee because the employee in good faith does or threatens to do any of the following: File a claim or complaint …”).

[7] Green-Hayes, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ (2015).

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