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Griffis v. Duke Energy Progress

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 6, 2019




         This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's harassment claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (DE 18). Also before the court is a joint motion for protective order instigated by defendant. (DE 34).[1] In this posture the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the instant motions are granted.


         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, commenced this employment discrimination action against defendant, her former employer, on March 21, 2019.[2] Plaintiff's complaint, filed upon completion of frivolity review, asserts claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (“Title VII”), on the basis of wrongful termination, unlawful retaliation, and harassment because of race.[3] Plaintiff attaches to her complaint a narrative statement, along with a United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) notice of rights to sue and charge of discrimination (“EEOC charge”), a “list of ethnic slurs, ” and correspondence to plaintiff from Lincoln Financial Group, defendant, and the North Carolina Board of Review. (See DE 6-1 to 6-7). Plaintiff seeks back pay, reinstatement, and damages.

         In the instant motion to dismiss, defendant seeks dismissal of plaintiff's harassment claim on the basis that plaintiff did not exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing this claim, which is not mentioned in plaintiff's EEOC charge. In case management order entered July 16, 2019, the court stayed discovery on plaintiff's harassment claim only pending decision on the instant motion.


         The facts alleged in the complaint and documents attached thereto may be summarized as follows. “Plaintiff is an African American” who “was employed with Duke Energy Progress” from approximately June 2016 to October 24, 2016. (Compl. (DE 6) at 3; Stmt. (DE 6-1) at 2).

         In July 2018, plaintiff was promoted to the position of “Administrative Specialist, ” and was “approved a corporate credit card, which allows for the charging of personal expenses under extenuating circumstances.” (EEOC Charge (DE 6-2) at 2). “On October 16, 2018, [plaintiff] was suspended without pay, without warning, pending an investigation into allegations of misuse and inappropriate coding of personal expenses for the corporate credit card.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that she “was walked out of employment and humiliated in front of co-workers[, ] reason being investigation of misuse of corporate credit card.” (Compl. (DE 6) at 4). “However, [plaintiff] provided written explanation and receipts for each expense since July 2018, and was never told [she] was doing it incorrectly.” (EEOC Charge (DE 6-2) at 2). That same day, plaintiff “applied for Short Term Disability (STD), which has a 7-day waiting period.” (Id.). “On October 24, 2018, [plaintiff] was terminated.” (Id.). Plaintiff “did not expect termination and believe[s] [she] was retaliated against when [she] filed for disability and then called [for] investigation, ” when allegedly “there was no reason for investigation other than racial discrimination.” (Compl. (DE 6) at 5).

         Plaintiff also alleges that “[d]uring the course of employment, [d]efendant created an environment which encouraged and fostered a hostile work environment for [plaintiff] due to her race.” (Stmt. (DE 6-1) at 2). Plaintiff cites examples of this alleged behavior including: 1) “A white co-worker encircling Plaintiff among three other co-workers, asking for an explanation as to why [p]laintiff drives a new vehicle, ” and 2) “racial slurs were used during employment at Duke Energy Progress by a white co-worker asking ‘want crackers' pretending to eat saltines.” (Id.). Plaintiff asserts “demeaning and hostile treatment” and “harassment, abuse and discrimination encouraged by Duke Energy management's refusal to stop the behavior.” (Id.).


         A. Standard of Review

         “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         Title VII requires a plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(b), (f)(1). Exhaustion is “mandatory in the sense that a court must enforce the rule if a party properly ...

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