United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
RUTH E. BROUSSARD, Plaintiff,
LOCAL BOOK PUBLISHING. INC. and LOCAL 360 MEDIA, INC., Defendants.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on defendants' partial
motion to dismiss [DE 9] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs have responded,
defendants have replied, and the matter is ripe for ruling.
For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is
denied as to defendant Local 360 Media and granted as to
defendant Local Book Publishing.
was recruited and hired by defendants as a sales manager for
the North Carolina region in March of 2016. Plaintiff
received an offer letter from the vice president of sales at
Local 360 Media that purported to list her benefits should
she accept a job, including an automobile allowance, mileage
reimbursement, bonuses, health and dental insurance, moving
expenses and up to six months of housing assistance.
Plaintiff accepted the position, moved to North Carolina from
Louisiana, began the job, and was terminated 16 days later.
Plaintiff then filed suit, alleging violations of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act and North Carolina's
Equal Employment Practice Act, as well as wrongful discharge
in violation of public policy and breach of contract. Only
plaintiffs final claim is currently before this Court,
following defendants' motion to dismiss it for failure to
state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
This court has supplemental jurisdiction over the claim under
28 U.S.C. § 1367.
12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint.
See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 283 (1986).
When acting on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6),
"the court should accept as true all well-pleaded
allegations and should view the complaint in a light most
favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v.
Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A complaint
must allege enough facts to state a claim for relief that is
facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Facial plausibility means that the
facts pled "allow the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged"; mere recitals of the elements of a cause of
action supported by conclusory statements do not suffice.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
has stated a claim for breach of contract. North Carolina has
long recognized the doctrine of employment at will, where
either party can terminate the employment relationship at any
time. Edwards v. Seaboard & R.R. Co., 28 S.E.
137 ( N.C. 1897). However, parties can opt to remove that
presumption by contracting for different terms. One way to do
so is to contract for a specific length of employment. But
"neither the [North Carolina] Supreme Court nor [the]
Court [of Appeals] have ever held that the only contractual
relationship sufficient to take a particular employment
relationship out of the 'employment at will' category
is a contract for a definite term of employment."
Franco v. Liposcience, 676 S.E.2d 500, 511 ( N.C.
App. 2009). In fact, in Kurtzman, the Court
specifically denied that. Kurtzman v. Applied Analytical
Industries, Inc., 493 S.E. 420, 423 ( N.C. 1997)
("We do not, as the dissenting opinion suggests, hold
that the establishment of a definite term of service' is
the sole means of contractually removing the at-will
issue in this case is whether there was an agreement between
plaintiff and defendant such that plaintiff was not an
at-will employee. The North Carolina Supreme Court has
previously ruled squarely on the issue of whether moving in
order to take a job is enough to remove the at-will
presumption: it is not. Kurtzman v. Applied Analytical
Industries, Inc., 493 S.E. 420, 423 ( N.C. 1997). But
concrete assurances by an employer or additional
consideration for taking a job can remove the at-will
presumption. Franco v. Liposcience Inc., 676 S.E.2d
500, 551 ( N.C. App. 2009); Kristufekv. Saxonburg
Ceramics, Inc., 901 F.Supp. 1018, 1023 (W.D. N.C. 1994).
inquiry here is the following: if all plaintiff alleges is
that she relocated for the new job, she has no claim. If she
has successfully pled additional facts that show she provided
additional consideration and was made specific promises, she
has stated a claim.
agreeing to a rate of pay over a specified amount of time
does not guarantee a term of service for that time period.
Freeman v. Hardee's Food Systems, 165 S.E.2d 39,
41-42 ( N.C. App. 1969). Likewise, merely agreeing to a bonus
structure for a specified amount of performance does not
guarantee the right to fully perform that amount.
Wilkerson v. Carriage ParkDev. Corp., 503 S.E. 138,
140 ( N.C. App. 1998). But several different provisions, when
stacked, can operate to remove the at-will presumption. For
example, an offer that "specifie[d] a starting date,
annual compensation, provision for a bonus 'annually upon
successful completion of first and second years of
employment, ' stock options, moving expenses, and the use
of a company vehicle" could be construed to provide for
a specific period of employment. Stewart v. U.S. Corr.
Corp., 1999 WL 33321101, at *3 (W.D. N.C. 1999).
Additionally, in North Carolina, ambiguities in written
instruments are strictly construed against the drafting
party. Station Associates, Inc. v. Dare County, 501
S.E.2d 705 ( N.C. App. 1998).
has alleged enough facts to make it inappropriate to dismiss
her claim at this stage. Plaintiff argues that the offers of
an annual salary, six months' housing assistance, health
and dental insurance, an automobile allowance, mileage
reimbursement, and sales bonuses, taken all together,
constitute definite provisions that operate to remove the
at-will presumption. In reliance on these promises, plaintiff
took steps she argues she would not have taken otherwise,
including selling her home, turning down a different job
offer and leaving her job in Louisiana.
all facts and making all inferences in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, this Court finds that plaintiff
has stated a claim. Therefore, defendant 360 Media's
motion to dismiss should be denied.
plaintiff herself acknowledges, she alleges no facts to
sustain a claim against defendant Local Book Publishing.
Therefore, the motion to dismiss as to that defendant is
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss
is DENIED ...