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Adams v. Family Innovations, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 13, 2017

LA'VERNE ADAMS, Plaintiff,


          Graham C. Mullen United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement (Doc. No. 12), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17), and Defendant's Reply to the Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 21). The parties' motions are ripe for disposition.

         I. Background

         The Defendant Family Innovations, LLC is a provider of services for individuals dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues. (Doc. No. 13 at 1). It is owned by Willie Gray and Linda Olige. Id. Mr. Gray is the Operations Director and Ms. Olige is the Executive Director. Id. The third member of the senior management team is Kim Olige, Ms. Olige's husband. Id.

         Plaintiff Adams was hired by Family Innovations on July 1, 2014 as a probationary employee with a six-month probationary period. (Doc. No. 13 at 2). She was hired as a Program Coordinator and several weeks later became the Assertive Community Treatment Team Leader (“ACTT”). Id.

         In November 2014 Family Innovations faced a financial crises; a consequence of which the agency only paid its employees $1000 each for that month's work. Id. So, Adams filed an unpaid wage claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor (“NCDOL”) on December 30, 2014. (Doc. No. 18 at 2). Defendant was notified of the complaint on December 31. 2014. Id. Defendant has paid the full wages requested in the claim. Id.

         On December 29, 2014, the senior management met and decided to terminate the probationary employment of Plaintiff Adams. (Doc. No. 13 at 3). Because of the upcoming holiday weekend, the agency did not open again until January 5, 2015. Id. On the morning of January 5, 2015, Adams received her termination letter. Id. She packed up her belongings and left the premises. Id.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on February 18, 2016. She has three claims for relief: sexual harassment under Title VII; violation of North Carolina's Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act; and wrongful discharge. (Compl. at 4-6). Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment February 28, 2017.

         II. Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Portales Place Prop., LLC v. Guess, No. 3:08CV143, 2009 WL 112847, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 15, 2009) (citing Burbach Broadcasting Co. v. Elins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002)). When faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and view the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). The Court “assume[s] the[] veracity” of these factual allegations, and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Thus, a “complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the facts alleged] is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, the Court “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. LLP, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).

         The Court will grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of the non-movant's position is not sufficient to establish a genuine dispute. Id. at 252. A material fact affects the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Id. at 248. When determining whether a dispute is genuine or a fact is material, courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Unsupported speculation, however, is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 960 (4th Cir. 1996).

         III. Discussion

         a. Claim One: Title VII Sexual Harassment

          “[W]hen the harasser is a supervisor, the employer is presumptively liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, unless the Faragher-Ellerth defense applies.” Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of America, 673 F.3d 323, 330 n.7 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Whitten v. Fred's, inc., 601 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 2010)). This affirmative defense may only be raised when no tangible employment action is taken. Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 765 (1998). The Faragher-Ellerth doctrine provides a defense to a defending employer comprising two elements “(a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing ...

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