Heard in the Court of Appeals February 16, 2015
Mecklenburg County, No. 13 CVS 9560.
Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy and Kennedy, LLP, by Harold L. Kennedy, III, and Harvey L. Kennedy, for plaintiff-appellant.
Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice, LLP, by Sean F. Perrin, for defendant-appellees.
Chief Judge McGEE and Judge BRYANT concur.
Appeal by plaintiff from judgment entered 25 April
2014 by Judge W. Robert Bell in Mecklenburg County Superior Court.
Plaintiff, a deputy sheriff, was not a county employee as defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-99, and could be discharged based upon political conduct without violating her free speech rights under the North Carolina Constitution.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Terri Young (plaintiff) was a deputy sheriff employed by former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Daniel Bailey (defendant, with Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, collectively, defendants). In June 2009 defendant sent a letter to approximately 1,350 of his employees, announcing his candidacy for reelection and stating that he would appreciate campaign contributions. Plaintiff did not contribute to defendant's reelection campaign or volunteer for his campaign. Defendant was reelected in November 2010. On 6 December 2010 plaintiff was terminated from her position.
On 23 May 2013 plaintiff filed a complaint, asserting claims against defendants for wrongful termination of employment in violation of the public policy under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-99 and wrongful termination in violation of her rights under the Constitution of North Carolina, Article 1, § § 14 and 36. Plaintiff alleged that she was an " outstanding employee" between 1990 and 2007; that she was harassed by her superior during defendant's political campaign, and that she had been terminated " for refusing to make contributions to [defendant's] re-election campaign and for refusing to volunteer to work on his campaign." Defendants filed answers denying the material allegations of plaintiff's complaint and asserting the defense of sovereign immunity. On 3 March 2014 defendants filed a joint motion for summary judgment, asserting that there were no genuine issues of material fact regarding plaintiff's claim for wrongful discharge in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-99; that defendant was entitled to sovereign immunity on the wrongful discharge claim up ...