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Bailey v. Town of Beaufort

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

December 6, 2019

MEREDITH BAILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF BEAUFORT, CHRISTI WOOD, in her official capacity, and MARK EAKES, in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court upon defendants' partial motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (DE 29, 56). The motions have been briefed fully, and the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, the motions are granted in part and denied in part as set forth herein.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff initiated this action March 18, 2019, by filing complaint in Carteret County Superior Court, asserting the following claims: 1) discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. against defendant Town of Beaufort (“Town”), 2) wrongful discharge in violation of North Carolina public policy against defendant Town, 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against defendant Mark Eakes (“Eakes”) in his individual capacity, 4) violation of her Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Eakes in his individual capacity, 5) violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-168 against defendant Town, and 6) violation of her rights under the North Carolina Constitution against defendant Eakes and defendant Christi Wood (“Wood”) in their official capacities. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, costs, attorneys' fees, interest, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Defendants removed the action to this court April 18, 2019. Thereafter, plaintiff filed the operative amended complaint. Defendant Eakes filed the instant partial motion to dismiss July 1, 2019, asserting plaintiff's IIED claim should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. On September 3, 2019, defendants Eakes, Wood, and Town filed the instant motion to dismiss asserting 1) plaintiff's official capacity claims against defendants Eakes and Wood are duplicative of plaintiff's claims against defendant Town, 2) plaintiff's claims under the North Carolina Constitution should be dismissed because plaintiff has adequate state remedies, and 3) plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages from defendant Town or from defendants Eakes and Wood in their official capacities.[1] Plaintiff responded in opposition and defendants replied.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts alleged in amended complaint may be summarized as follows. Defendant Town employs defendant Eakes as Director of Public Works, defendant Wood as Director of Finance, and Donovan Willis (“Willis”), non-party, as Director of Public Utilities. (Am. Compl. (DE 28) ¶¶ 2-5). On October 3, 2016, plaintiff began working as an administrative assistant in defendant Town's Public Works and Public Utilities departments, reporting directly to supervisors Willis and defendant Eakes. Id. Prior to working for defendant Town, plaintiff had worked in secretarial positions for ten years and had never been terminated or asked to resign in lieu of termination. Id.

         Upon the start of her employment with defendant Town, defendant Eakes, plaintiff's direct supervisor, began acting “very flirtatious” towards plaintiff and making “suggestions of sexual attraction.” (Id. ¶ 8). For example, one day during plaintiff's first week of work, plaintiff asked defendant Eakes “in a very professional tone” if there was anything else she could do for him. Defendant Eakes responded, “Yeah. You can scratch my back.” Id.

         Shortly thereafter, defendant Eakes's conduct towards plaintiff escalated and became “crude and more overtly sexual, as well as demeaning.” (Id. ¶ 9). Instead of referring to plaintiff by name, defendant Eakes called her “sweet cheeks, Ms. Thang, darlin', sugar britches, sexy pants, woman, and baby.” (Id. ¶ 9a). Additionally, in a text message sent to plaintiff, defendant Eakes stated, “Hello sexy pants just heading home and thought about [your] battery if it doesn't start in the morning just shoot me a text an ill [sic] come pick you up . . . just one stipulation you have to be waiting for me in your birthday suit.” (Id. ¶ 9b).

         In other text messages, sent October 21, 2016, defendant Eakes told plaintiff he could “talk a woman's panties off, ” asked plaintiff what kind of underwear she was wearing, asked to see her underwear, stated that a “peak” was “just going to excite” him, and asked plaintiff if she was “ready for him.” (Id. ¶ 9c). Then, defendant Eakes sent plaintiff a text messages stating, “Frank just said I'm going to go in there and spank that [expletive].” Id. However, at that moment, Frank was in plaintiff's office, not defendant Eakes's office, so plaintiff attributed the remark to defendant Eakes. Id. The following dialogue ensued:

Plaintiff: Hehe. You're mean.
Defendant Eakes: He said he's going to show you mean.
Plaintiff: Go Away Defendant Eakes: No, come here baby I got something for you.
Plaintiff: No.

Id. On October 25, 2016, defendant Eakes sent plaintiff a text message stating, “Let's turn of[f] lights and get in our birthday suits and run around the office and garage an[d] play hid[e] and go seek.” (Id. ¶ 9d). Later that day, plaintiff told defendant Eakes she was leaving to get a salad for lunch. Defendant Eakes texted plaintiff “did u say u had to go get a shower?” After plaintiff responded in the negative, defendant Eakes texted “oh ok well in that case go ahead, I was going to say hold on ill [sic] go.” (Id. ¶ 9d).

         On another occasion, defendant Eakes asked a male employee to stand next to him while he spoke to plaintiff so that plaintiff “wouldn't think he was sexually harassing her.” (Id. ¶ 9f). Then defendant Eakes told plaintiff to stand still. Defendant Eakes proceeded to stare at plaintiff “below the waist” and told her that her jeans were like “mirrors” and he “could see” himself “in [her] pants.” Id. Additionally, in front of plaintiff and other employees, defendant Eakes “told one of his direct reports that he was going to ‘go home and [expletive] the employee's sister, '” who was a minor at the time. (Id. ¶ 9g). Defendant Eakes also told plaintiff to come to his truck because he had “something in the back seat that [she] would really like, ” insinuating a sexual encounter, and during the first week of December 2016, defendant Eakes left “kiss prints” on the window of plaintiff's office. (Id. ¶ 10).

         Defendant Eakes's behavior “was not one-dimensional.” Id. At times he was “charming” and “seductive, ” and at other times, he became “controlling” and “territorial, ” such as when other males approached plaintiff's desk. Id. For example, on December 6, 2016, male employees from plaintiff's former job stopped by her desk to inform her of a death in a former co-worker's family. Upon seeing this interaction, defendant Eakes “communicated to [p]laintiff in a very sharp tone and accused [p]laintiff of being unethical by discussing another employer's for-profit business while [p]laintiff was on the clock for [defendant] Town.” Id.

         Because defendant Eakes's behavior made plaintiff uncomfortable, she began closing her private office door whenever she was alone with defendant Eakes in the Public Works department office. (Id. ¶ 11). Moreover, defendant Eakes's alleged sexual harassment caused plaintiff “mental and emotional stress which manifested in physical illness.” Id. Specifically, she experienced migraine headaches and panic attacks and was hospitalized in early November for gastrointestinal problems that were attributed to stress. Id. She also experienced a panic attack November 28, 2016, which caused gastrointestinal distress. Id.

         On December 6, 2016, plaintiff complained to Town Manager Charles Burgess (“Burgess”) about defendant Eakes's alleged sexual harassment, and Burgess met with defendant Eakes two days later. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15). When defendant Eakes returned from his meeting with Burgess, defendant Eakes “grabbed a thick catalog from his office and forcefully threw the catalog across a common area of the office.” (Id. ...


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