United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Defendant NVT Technologies' ("NVT's") Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #7]. In this action, Plaintiff Harvey Lee Clemmons ("Plaintiff") brings three claims for relief arising out of his prior employment with Defendant NVT: (1) a claim against Defendants for violation of the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act ("REDA"), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-241, based on alleged retaliation for filing a Workers' Compensation claim, (2) a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") based on alleged racial discrimination and retaliation, and (3) a claim under North Carolina common law for wrongful termination. For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that NVT's Motion to Dismiss be granted to the extent Plaintiff alleges a Title VII harassment/hostile work environment claim, but otherwise denied.
I. FACTS, CLAIMS, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
NVT hired Plaintiff, an African-American male, as a Stationary Engineer in August 2008. (Compl. [Doc. #3] ¶¶ 1, 10-11.) According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was injured at work in July 2010 when water infused with chemicals allegedly made contact with Plaintiff's skin. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that he reported the incident to upper management but was not informed of his potential Workers' Compensation rights. (Id. ¶ 24.) Despite ongoing treatment, Plaintiff allegedly continues to suffer from skin irritations and rashes as a result of this incident. (Id. ¶ 23.) According to the Complaint, in September 2012, Plaintiff suffered a reoccurrence of skin irritations and rashes resulting from the July 12, 2010 chemical exposure. (Id. ¶ 30.) Mr. Jim Burnette, Plaintiff's supervisor, allegedly informed Plaintiff at that time that Plaintiff might not be able to work with chemicals anymore and thus "probably could not work at [NVT] any longer." (Id. ¶ 31.) However, Plaintiff alleges that white employees holding the same position as Plaintiff were not required to work with chemicals. (Id. ¶ 32.) As a result of the skin rash reoccurrence, Plaintiff decided to file a Workers' Compensation claim sometime in September 2012 and, in order to do so, was instructed by his project manager, Mr. Keeler, to request an accident report from Supervisor Burnette. (Id. ¶¶ 33-35.) At the time of the filing of the Complaint, Plaintiff's Workers' Compensation claim remained open and he had not received any compensation. (Id. ¶ 36.)
Plaintiff further alleges that Supervisor Burnette often spoke to Plaintiff "in a harsh tone and used profanity and abusive language" and assigned Plaintiff undesirable and unsafe tasks. (Id. ¶ 27.) The Complaint further alleges that Supervisor Burnette did not treat similarly-situated white employees in this manner, nor did he assign them the similar undesirable and unsafe tasks that he assigned to Plaintiff. (Id.) Moreover, Supervisor Burnette allegedly placed a dead snake on Plaintiff's truck, in order to, according to Plaintiff, "intimidate and frighten" Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 28.)
According to the Complaint, on November 7, 2012, Supervisor Burnette confronted Plaintiff regarding Plaintiff's request for a respirator. Plaintiff alleges that Supervisor Burnette became abusive and profane toward Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 38.) Later that same day, according to the Complaint, Plaintiff was meeting with a secretary regarding a claim reference number, and Supervisor Burnette came to the office and "began screaming and banging on the door." (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that he was afraid of Supervisor Burnette and refused to open the door, and that the secretary let Supervisor Burnette into the room although Plaintiff believed that she was fearful as well. (Id. ¶ 41.) The Complaint alleges that the next day, Supervisor Burnette requested that Plaintiff stay after his shift to meet with Project Manager Keeler. (Id. ¶ 45.) Supervisor Burnette again allegedly became belligerent and profane, and Plaintiff did not feel comfortable waiting alone with Supervisor Burnette for Mr. Keeler, so Plaintiff left the facility. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.) Upon leaving, Plaintiff allegedly encountered Mr. Keeler and told him about what had taken place with Supervisor Burnette, and Mr. Keeler promised to speak with Supervisor Burnette and told Plaintiff "not to worry about it." (Id. ¶ 50.)
Prior to returning for his next scheduled shift on November 13, Plaintiff was informed that he was going to be placed on paid leave pending an investigation. (Id. ¶ 51.) On the same day that Plaintiff was informed that he was being placed on leave, he filed a charge of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Defendant National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences ("NIEHS"). NIEHS, a government entity, owns the plant where plaintiff worked, and NIEHS contracted with NVT to operate and manage that facility. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 52.) On November 20, 2012, Plaintiff amended his charge with the EEOC to change the employer to NVT. On November 26, 2012, NVT terminated Plaintiff for cause, citing the following reasons: not following orders on work performance; not attending meetings when requested; and disregarding and ignoring supervisors' instructions. (Id. ¶ 53.) Plaintiff denies the validity and sufficiency of each alleged reason for his termination. (Id. ¶¶ 54-58.) Plaintiff contends that Supervisor Burnette was motivated to find cause to terminate Plaintiff in order to preserve a white employee's job that was threatened by a funding cut. (Id. ¶ 59-60.)
On December 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed a second charge against NVT with the EEOC, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. (Id. ¶ 62.) On January 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge with the North Carolina Department of Labor ("NCDOL") alleging retaliation by NVT for Plaintiff's filing of his Worker's Compensation claim. (Id. ¶ 63.) Both the EEOC and NCDOL have issued Plaintiff Right-to-Sue Letters for his three separate charges. (Id. ¶¶ 64-66.)
Plaintiff filed this action in state court alleging claims against Defendants for: (1) a violation of the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act ("REDA"), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-241; (2) violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., based on racial discrimination and retaliation; and (3) common law wrongful termination. NVT removed the case to federal court [Doc. #1] and filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #7].
1. Standard for Motion to Dismiss
"To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), plaintiffs' [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ' thereby nudg[ing] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). "[A] court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true." Id . (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)). However, "statements of bare legal conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth' and are insufficient to state a claim." Id . (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).
A Title VII plaintiff is not required to plead a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), because "[t]he prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas... is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002). Instead, the Court must consider, under the "ordinary rules for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, " Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 511, whether the Complaint fails to ...