United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
LAURA B. GREENE, Plaintiff,
SHAPIRO & INGLE, LLP, Defendant.
J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 24); its Memorandum in
Support, (Doc. No. 34), Plaintiff's Response in
Opposition, (Doc. No. 40); Defendant's Reply, (Doc. No.
44); Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Reply,
(Doc. No. 50); her Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 51);
Defendant's Response in Opposition, (Doc. No. 52); and
Plaintiff's Reply, (Doc. No. 53). The two motions are
ripe for adjudication. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's
Motion to Strike Defendant's Reply.
B. Greene (“Plaintiff”) filed her Complaint,
(Doc. No. 1-1), against Shapiro & Ingle, LLP
(“Defendant”) on May 9, 2017, in the Superior
Court of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. On May 17, 2017,
Plaintiff's case was removed to the Western District of
North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1). On October 24, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Motion to Compel Discovery, (Doc. No. 14), which the
Magistrate Judge granted and denied in part, (Doc. No. 20 at
6). Plaintiff filed a second Motion to Compel Discovery,
(Doc. No. 22), on February 22, 2018, which the Magistrate
Judge granted on March 30, 2018, (Doc. No. 48). This second
order by the Magistrate Judge set April 9, 2018, as the
deadline for Defendant to provide full discovery responses.
(Doc. No. 48 at 4). It also required Defendant to reimburse
Plaintiff for her reasonable costs and fees associated with
preparing and filing her second motion and its supporting
memoranda. (Id.). On March 1, 2018, Defendant filed
its Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 24). On April 5,
2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike Defendant's
Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc.
No. 50), arguing that it relied on evidence presented for the
first time. Oral arguments regarding Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment were heard on May 31,
is an attorney residing in Gaston County, North Carolina.
(Doc. No. 1 ¶1). Defendant is a law firm with offices in
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. (Id.
¶2). From January to September of 2015, Defendant
employed Plaintiff as a salaried attorney in its Charlotte,
North Carolina office. (Id. ¶6, 22). Throughout
the hiring process, Defendant made known it valued
Plaintiff's dual licensure in North Carolina and
Tennessee. (Id.). Defendant also understood that
Plaintiff was in the process of completing her LLM degree in
taxation through online classes. (Id. ¶7).
February of 2015, Plaintiff began working in Defendant's
Title Department alongside Title Manager, James Albert, and
legal assistant, Matt Hill. (Id. ¶9). As she
began her new role, Plaintiff participated in email
communication with coworkers that would frequently shift from
business to personal matters. (Id. ¶11). Of
particular note are those communications between Plaintiff
and Title Manager Albert. (Id. ¶12).
Interactions with James Albert
and interactions between Albert and Plaintiff began
professional but, as Plaintiff tells it, soon became
“inappropriate and sexual in nature.”
(Id.). Albert began commenting to Plaintiff on the
attractiveness of other female employees. (Doc. No. 40 at 7).
He opined on others' weight, how he favored short skirts,
and asked which of Defendant's employees were pursuing
sexual relationships with each other. (Id. at 7-8).
alleges that Alberts comments to her constituted sexual
harassment. In doing so, Plaintiff points to various emails
Albert sent her throughout the summer of 2015 that she claims
“crossed a line.” (Id.). While
Plaintiffs brief supplies Albert's comments in isolation,
a more accurate portrayal of his comments in the record are
• In an email where Plaintiff asked Albert, “So
how late do you have to stay? I saw you in there, having a
meeting. Do you have to sleepover?” Albert responded,
“Are you staying to sleep over with me?”
Plaintiff emailed Albert back, “No, I am not Matt Hill,
therefore I do not desire to sleep on the couch in the
breakroom.” (Doc. No. 40-18 at 9-10).
• When Plaintiff forwarded Albert several Title numbers,
Albert responded, “I didn't review [one of those
titles], I passed it on to [another employee] who did the
review… do you have me on your mind?” (Doc. No.
40-22 at 3-5).
• In an email where Plaintiff asked Albert if he had
Tylenol in his office for her migraine, Albert responded that
he was out. Plaintiff stated, “And guess you didn't
ever want me to come visit again since you ate all the
Tylenol.” Albert responded, “You can visit me
whenever you want, I'm yours for the taking.” (Doc.
No. 40-18 at 11-13).
• When Albert answered a business-related question from
Plaintiff, she responded, “Thank you! Yes, I seriously
though [sic] that a non-moron would know these are available
online. I will take you to [V]egas ... If they ever give me
raise.... Haha.” Albert stated, “It'll be a
blast!” Plaintiff then asked Albert if his wife would
want to go and Albert responded that he wasn't planning
on bringing her. Plaintiff continued, asking,
“Isn't she down to parttty?” Albert later
asserted that he “deserve[d] some alone time.”
Plaintiff responded, “Haven't you see[n] the
hangover? You can just drug yourself for fun.” After
Plaintiff mocked Albert's apparent interest in the game
Dungeons & Dragons, she stated he should go to a
“D&D fest” in Las Vegas. It was only then
that Albert stated, “Don't mock, you know you'd
want to come.” (Doc. No. 40-22 at 6-12).
• In another email, Plaintiff told Albert that she had a
sprained ankle with a bug bite. “It is huge and itches,
” Plaintiff wrote. Albert responded by asking,
“Do you want me to starch [sic] it for you lol?”
Albert then corrected himself, saying that he meant
“Scratch it… or whatever you need.” When
Plaintiff stated that all she needed was bug spray and a
bandage, Albert wrote, “Ok, was just trying to nice and
help ya out, I have some magic hands.” (Doc. No. 40-19
excerpts above show, Plaintiff contributed to the
conversations with Albert. For example, Defendant points out
that Plaintiff sent Albert an email commenting on a
“hot guy.” (Doc. No. 25 at 8) (citing Doc. No.
25-2 at 34). Several employees saw Plaintiff enter
Albert's office frequently. (Id at 9). While
Plaintiff claims her visits to Albert were because he was a
notary, a number of notaries were employed throughout the
building. (Id. at 10).
as Albert's outward conduct toward Plaintiff goes, he
never threatened Plaintiff or touched her sexually. (Doc. No.
25 at 3); see also (Doc. No. 25-11 at 48).
Plaintiff admits that Albert's behavior remained
“along the lines of these more subtle innuendos and
whatnot in [their] conversations.” (Doc. No. 25-11 at
Plaintiff's Reports to Defendant
states that she reported Albert's comments to Defendant
multiple times. First, Plaintiff states that she made verbal
comments to Michelle Toney, a human resource
(“HR”) specialist, during the week of May 21,
2015. (Doc. No. 40 at 9). During this verbal meeting with
Toney, Plaintiff said that Albert could be vindictive and
made inappropriate comments. (Doc. No. 40-1 at 32). Plaintiff
admitted that she did not use the words “sexual
harassment” with Toney, but she attempted to relay that
Albert would say “weird things.” (Id. at
33). Plaintiff told Toney that she believed she had to
entertain Albert's comments or he would not help her
second verbal complaint occurred in either late June or early
July of 2015. (Doc. No. 40 at 9). On August 4, 2015,
Plaintiff began emailing Toney. (Doc. No. 40-2 at 8).
Plaintiff forwarded Albert's email where he stated that
his “magic hands” could help Plaintiff's bug
bite on her ankle. (Doc. No. 40 at 9). Then, on August 26,
Plaintiff emailed Toney again, attaching a message Albert
sent via “G-chat” stating, “U r killing me
smalls.” (Doc. No. 40-19 at 8). This comment was sent
in response to Plaintiff's complaints to Toney. (Doc. No.
40 at 10). That same day, Toney emailed Elizabeth Ells, the
firm's operations manager, and stated that
“[Plaintiff] wants [Albert] to treat her professionally
and to stop communications that do not have anything to do
with work.” (Doc. No. 40-21 at 1). Toney asked if she
should talk to Albert about his “unprofessional
communications.” (Id.). Ells replied,
“Yes, speak to James. Although you told me Laura Greene
keeps showing up in his office.” (Id.).
last report occurred on August 31, 2015, when she met with
Ells and Grady Ingle, the firm's managing partner. (Doc.
No. 40 at 11). At this meeting, Plaintiff alleges that Ingle
advised Plaintiff to stay in her office and that she was the
cause of Albert's comments. (Id.). Ells asked
Plaintiff if she wanted to transfer to the bankruptcy
department. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Ells told
her that Plaintiff was “either with us, or against
us.” (Id.). In the end, Ells and Ingle
concluded that they would transfer Plaintiff to the
firm's bankruptcy practice. (Id.). The group
also agreed to meet again in September to discuss a pay
increase for Plaintiff. (Id.).
Plaintiff's Job Performance
Plaintiff's interactions with Albert, she continued to do
her job. Plaintiff states that she often worked more than 8
hours per day and 40 hours per week. (Doc. No. 40 at 6).
Defendant, however, states that Plaintiff continually took an
excessive number of absences and habitually arrived late to
the office. (Doc. No. 25 at 4). Defendant presents emails
showing at least 57 instances of attendance issues in
Plaintiff's eight months of employment. (Doc. No. 45 at
9). Plaintiff sent these emails notifying Toney that she was
either running late for work or had to leave early.
See (Doc. No. 25-13 at 1-102). Plaintiff's
absence from the office not only resulted from her LLM
classes, but also from various doctors' appointments,
sick days, and issues with her car.
September 14, 2015, Defendant terminated Plaintiff-two weeks
after her August 31st meeting with Ells and Ingle. (Doc. No.
40 at 11). The decision was made jointly by Ingle, Toney, and
Ells. (Id.). Defendant cites Plaintiff's
absences and tardiness as the basis for its decision.
DEFENDANT'S MOTION ...