FRANCES L. FELTMAN, Plaintiff,
CITY OF WILSON, a North Carolina Municipal Corporation; GRANT GOINGS, in his official Capacity as the City Manager of the City of Wilson and in his individual capacity; HARRY TYSON, in his individual capacity as the Deputy City Manager of the City of Wilson and in his individual capacity; AGNES SPEIGHT, in her official capacity as the Assistant City Manager of the City of Wilson and in her individual capacity; DATHAN SHOWS, in his official capacity as the Assistant City Manager of the City of Wilson and in his individual capacity; and, SUZANNE ALLEN, in her individual capacity; Defendants
Heard in the Court of Appeals 21 October 2014.
This Decision is not final until expiration of the twenty-one day rehearing period. [North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure 32(b)]
Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 14 January
2014 by Judge Quentin T. Sumner in Wilson County Superior Court.
Wilson County. No. 13-CVS-1294.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
The Leon Law Firm, P.C., by Mary-Ann Leon, for plaintiff-appellant.
Cauley Pridgen, P.A., by James P. Cauley, III and Timothy P. Carraway, for defendants-appellees.
DAVIS, Judge. Judges HUNTER, Robert C., and DILLON concur.
Frances L. Feltman (" Plaintiff" ) appeals from the trial court's order granting the motion to dismiss of Defendants City of Wilson (" the City" ), Grant Goings, Harry Tyson (" Tyson" ), Agnes Speight (" Speight" ), Dathan Shows, and Suzanne Allen (" Allen" ) (collectively " Defendants" ) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure as to two of the claims for relief asserted by Plaintiff. On appeal, Plaintiff contends that the trial court failed to apply the proper standard of review under Rule 12(b)(6) in granting Defendants' motion. After careful review, we reverse the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings.
We have summarized the pertinent facts below using Plaintiff's own statements from her amended complaint, which we treat as true in reviewing the trial court's order granting a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Stein v. Asheville City Bd. of Educ., 360 N.C. 321, 325, 626 S.E.2d 263, 266 (2006) ( " When reviewing a complaint dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), we treat a plaintiff's factual allegations as true." ).
Plaintiff was employed as a Benefits Administrator with the City's Human Resources and Risk Services Department. Throughout her tenure as an employee, Plaintiff met and often exceeded the job-related expectations of her employer. In 2009, Allen became Plaintiff's supervisor. In December 2011, Plaintiff and several other employees became aware that Allen was improperly assigning certain City employees to babysit her children at her home during their regular working hours for the City. In late 2011, Plaintiff also learned that Allen had terminated another employee, Shannon Davis, while Davis was on leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, and had hired a personal friend of Allen's to replace Davis.
Plaintiff informed Tyson, the Deputy City Manager, about Allen's actions. Tyson investigated Plaintiff's allegations along with Speight, the Assistant City Manager, and determined that Plaintiff's accusations against Allen were false.
Plaintiff then procured and presented to " city administrators" date-stamped photographs of an automobile belonging to one of her fellow employees, Bonnie Fulgham (" Fulgham" ), parked in front of Allen's house at a time of day when Fulgham's attendance records indicated she was at work for the City. At some point thereafter, Allen learned that Plaintiff -- along with another employee, Jessica Cervantes -- had been responsible for reporting Allen's improper actions.
Allen then began a " campaign of retaliation" against Plaintiff. Specifically, Allen (1) isolated Plaintiff from employee meetings in the department; (2) generally refused to speak with Plaintiff; (3) told other employees that she was determined to get rid of employees that she described as " old school," making specific reference to Plaintiff; and (4) applied different standards to Plaintiff than those used for other similarly situated employees concerning absences from work for medical appointments.
Plaintiff complained about Allen's treatment of her to other City officials and, in response, Speight assigned Fulgham to be Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Plaintiff soon discovered, however, that Allen was, in fact, continuing to supervise Plaintiff's job performance and had directed Fulgham to demand that Plaintiff record every action she took during the day, which other similarly situated employees were not required to do.
In May 2012, Plaintiff voiced her concerns regarding Allen to " other citizens of the City[.]" Plaintiff also participated in writing and transmitting a letter concerning Allen's improper conduct to the mayor, the members of the city council, and to candidates seeking elected office within the City. Shortly thereafter, Allen's employment with the City was terminated.
After Allen's termination, Speight became the head of Plaintiff's department and subjected Plaintiff's work to increased scrutiny. Plaintiff was prohibited from opening any mail that was directed to her or her office, her computer files were searched, records of all telephone calls made from her office were reviewed, her personnel file was scrutinized, and she was never permitted to be alone in the office. In addition, at a meeting of department employees, Speight stated that " some people will be here to work as a team and some of you will not." Speight looked directly at Plaintiff when she stated the words " some of you will not."
Approximately three weeks later, Plaintiff was terminated from her employment with the City as part of an alleged reduction in force, which Plaintiff asserts was a pretext designed to prevent her from appealing her termination through the City's grievance procedure. Plaintiff was told that her job was being eliminated and that reemployment with the City was not an option for her. However, almost immediately after her departure, her former job duties were assumed by one new employee and one existing employee. Also, a new full-time employee was later hired for a newly created position that was substantially the same as Plaintiff's former position. Plaintiff's attempts to obtain alternative employment with the City have been unsuccessful, and the City has hired less qualified candidates than Plaintiff for positions to which she has applied.
On 3 September 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants in Wilson County Superior Court and subsequently filed an amended complaint. In her amended complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims for (1) violation of her right to freedom of speech under the North Carolina Constitution; (2) violation of her right to assemble under the North Carolina Constitution; (3) civil conspiracy; and (4) wrongful discharge in violation of ...