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O'Neal v. Harrison

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 13, 2015

Angela T. O'Neal, Plaintiff,
v.
Donnie Harrison, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Wake County, & The Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, as surety, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT T. NUMBERS, II, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant Donnie Harrison, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Wake County, has requested that the court dismiss the Complaint filed against him by Plaintiff Angela T. O'Neal because it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. O'Neal's Complaint alleges a variety of state and federal claims arising out of her employment with and resignation from the Wake County Sheriff's Office ("WCSO"). While O'Neal's Complaint does state some claims upon which relief may be granted, a number of her claims should be dismissed. Therefore, it is recommended[1] that Harrison's Motion to Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part as outlined in more detail below.

Background[2]

O'Neal initiated this action on January 31, 2014, by filing a Complaint in North Carolina Superior Court that named Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison and his surety, The Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, as defendants. The Complaint alleges that O'Neal was subjected to sexual and racial discrimination during her time as a detention officer at the WCSO and that her supervisors retaliated against her when she complained about her co-workers' actions. O'Neal seeks to recover compensatory and punitive damages for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the commission of several state common law torts.

O'Neal, a white female, began working as a Detention Officer at the WCSO on March 25, 2012. (D.E. 1; Compl. ¶ 18.) Almost immediately after joining the Sheriff's Office, O'Neal's co-workers began making derogatory comments regarding her race and gender. ( Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) These derogatory comments were frequently made in the presence of the inmates that O'Neal was responsible for supervising. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Additionally, O'Neal claims that at other unspecified times, her co-workers blocked her ability to communicate with staff while stationed in the detention center's housing units; declined to relieve her so that she could eat, drink, or take bathroom breaks during her 12 hour shifts; and disparaged her professional reputation. ( Id. ¶ 93.)

In late May, 2012, O'Neal informed Lieutenant Shonda Lucas, a black female, about racist comments and physically intimidating behavior by Officer Lynda Swann, a black female. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Lucas told O'Neal that she should expect this type of behavior from her fellow officers. ( Id. )

In March 2013, O'Neal sought a spot in the WCSO's Armed Transport School.[3] ( Id. ¶ 27.) Although she received the highest physical assessment score of all the applicants, O'Neal was informed that she would not be allowed to participate in Armed Transport School. ( Id. ¶ 28.) Eventually, after further discussions with WCSO Detention Center Director Butler and others, she was allowed to participate in the program. ( Id. ¶ 29.)

In April 2013, O'Neal met with Karen Wallace, the Director of Human Resources, regarding her belief that she was being discriminated against due to her race and gender. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Wallace responded that she had heard of similar incidents in the past and would turn the matter over to the Internal Affairs department for an investigation, which she did. ( Id. )

On May 3, 2013, Butler informed O'Neal that Taser certification was now required to be part of the armed transport team. ( Id. ¶ 33.) O'Neal previously told her supervisors that she could not be tased, a requirement for Taser certification, due to a medical condition. ( Id. ) O'Neal believes that this requirement was implemented to prevent her from successfully completing Armed Transport School. ( Id. ) After this conversation, O'Neal was removed from Armed Transport School and her position was offered to a black female. ( Id. ¶ 34.)

After her termination from Armed Transport School, O'Neal became ill and left work. ( Id. ¶ 36.) Her doctor diagnosed her with high blood pressure and weight loss caused by stress and opined that her symptoms were caused by her work environment. ( Id. ) The doctor suggested that O'Neal refrain from working as a Detention Officer until her health improved. ( Id. )

On May 8, 2013, O'Neal filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("First EEOC Charge") asserting racial and gender discrimination. ( Id. ¶ 37.) After filing the First EEOC Charge, O'Neal attempted to meet with Sheriff Harrison, but was told he would not meet with her because of the pending EEOC charge. ( Id. ¶ 40.)

On June 18, 2013, O'Neal resigned from her position with the WCSO. ( Id. ¶ 41.) Although she claims that she did not want to resign, she felt that she was being forced out. ( Id. )

Shortly after O'Neal's resignation, the Assistant Director of Detention Services sent an email to WCSO staff stating that O'Neal was no longer employed at the Detention Center and was not permitted employee access to the facilities. ( Id. Ex. B.) Prior to O'Neal's termination, this type of email was only sent out when an employee was terminated. ( Id. ¶ 42.) O'Neal believes that the Sheriff's Office sent the email in retaliation for filing the First EEOC Charge.

O'Neal alleges that the Sheriff's Office continued to retaliate against her even after she left her position. For instance, O'Neal's application for a position with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office was rejected after members of the Johnston County Sheriff's Office spoke with the WCSO about O'Neal. ( Id. )

As a result of her belief that the WCSO was interfering with her attempts to find new employment, O'Neal filed another EEOC Charge on October 10, 2013 ("Second EEOC Charge"). The Second EEOC Charge asserted that the WCSO retaliated against her for complaining about race and gender discrimination by providing negative comments to her potential employers. ( Id. ¶ 45.)

The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue letter to O'Neal on November 29, 2013. This lawsuit followed a number of months later.

Discussion

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