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Abadi v. Mecklenburg County Government

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

June 20, 2019

NAZANIN ROSTASTAM ABADI, Plaintiff,
v.
MECKLENBURG COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 44). Plaintiff has responded to Defendant's Motion, (Doc. No. 53), Defendant has replied, (Doc. No. 54), and this matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a former employee of the Mecklenburg County Health Department, where she formerly worked as a WIC nutritionist. Plaintiff brought this suit in forma pauperis alleging that she was wrongfully terminated on November 29, 2016. Plaintiff originally brought several claims under a variety of state and federal laws: violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, retaliation and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act, and violations of the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act of North Carolina (“REDA”). (Doc. No. 6, p. 2). The Court conducted a frivolity review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and dismissed Plaintiff's Whistleblower Protection Act and Occupational Safety and Health Act claims. (Doc. No. 3, p. 7). The Court subsequently dismissed Plaintiff's REDA and hostile work environment claims at the motion to dismiss stage. (Doc. No. 18, p. 9). Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim survived Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.[1]

         The factual basis for Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim is not clear from her filings. However, Plaintiff's EEOC charge alleges that she was retaliated against for complaining “to the supervisor, the manager, and the director about co-workers comments about and treatment of clients based on their national origin and religion.” (Doc. No. 9-1, p. 2). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. (Doc. No. 44).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact in the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts and the non-moving party must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.11 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         Simply “rest[ing] upon the mere allegations or denials of [a plaintiff's] pleadings” is insufficient to survive a properly made and supported motion for summary judgment. Id. at 586 n.11. Instead, the non-moving party must adduce affirmative evidence, by means of affidavits or other verified evidence, showing that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. See id. at 586-87. “Although the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence.” Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir. 2013).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues that summary judgment should be granted because, based on the allegations in Plaintiff's EEOC charge, Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity under Title VII and therefore cannot establish a prima facie case for retaliation. (See Doc. No. 45, p. 6-7).

         Title VII's antiretaliation provision forbids an employer from discriminating against a person who opposes a “practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3 (2018). This antiretaliation provision's primary purpose is to prevent employers “from interfering (through retaliation) with an employee's efforts to secure or advance enforcement of the Act's basic guarantees.” Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 63 (2006). In order to establish a prima facie case for retaliation, a plaintiff must show that 1) they engaged in a protected activity, 2) they suffered an adverse employment action and 3) there was a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010).

         An employee engages in protected activity when they oppose an unlawful employment practice or what they reasonably believe to be an unlawful employment practice. DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, 796 F.3d 409, 417 (4th Cir. 2015). The Fourth Circuit has made it clear that Title VII's antiretaliation provision is “not a general bad acts statute, ” and thus, only activities that oppose employment-related discrimination are protected from retaliation. See Crowley v. Prince George's Cty., Md., 890 F.2d 683, 687 (4th Cir. 1989). In Crowley, the plaintiff claimed that he had been demoted for “drawing attention to racial harassment by the police department.” Id. at 685. However, since the plaintiff was not investigating “discriminatory employment practices within the police department, ” but rather investigating instances of racial harassment toward the community at large, the Fourth Circuit found that the “claim simply is not cognizable under Title VII.” Id. at 687. In other words, Title VII only protects against retaliation when the employee opposes employment-related discrimination and does not protect against retaliation for more general “whistleblowing” activities.

         In the present case, Plaintiff's EEOC charge alleges that she was retaliated against for complaining “to the supervisor, the manager, and the director about co-workers comments about and treatment of clients based on their national origin and religion.” (Doc. No. 9-1, p. 2) (emphasis added). Plaintiff's charge, on its face, does not allege that she or others were subject to employment-related discrimination. Rather, Plaintiff complained that her coworkers were discriminating against members of the general public. Therefore, Title VII does not protect Plaintiff from any retaliation she may have faced from reporting these instances of non-employment discrimination. See Crowley, 890 F.2d at 687 (stating that Title VII does not offer “protection for whistle-blowers on each and every instance of discrimination” “without regard to whether the claimed discrimination relates to a practice of employment”). Since Plaintiff's retaliation claim does not involve a protected activity under Title VII, summary judgment is appropriate.[2]

         Plaintiff now argues she should be allowed to bring a retaliation claim on the basis that she was terminated for reporting a hostile work environment. (See, e.g., Doc. No. 53, p. 44-45 (email complaining of a hostile work environment)). Essentially, Plaintiff argues that she should not be bound by the allegations in her EEOC charge, and ...


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