United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
OF THE CASE
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.
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. Plaintiff responded in opposition and
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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. ...