— Posts About Summary Judgment

Court of Appeals Rejects REDA Claim by Pro Se Plaintiff

In Fatta v M & M Properties Management, Inc. the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard an appeal by a pro se plaintiff of the trial court’s granting of summary judgement.  Plaintiff worked for the company in one of their hotels as a property manager.  During Plaintiff’s training, he was injured while cleaning a room.  He reported the injury to his supervisor and said he would file workers’ compensation paperwork if the injury was more severe than a pulled muscle.  A day after he reported his injury to his supervisor, Plaintiff was given a first and final written warning; five days after the warning Plaintiff was terminated.  Plaintiff filed a Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission five days following his termination.

Plaintiff contends that the company violated the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) by firing him while he was engaged in protected activity, namely threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim.  The Court of Appeals agreed that threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim is protected activity.  However, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order because Plaintiff could not show a causal relationship between his termination and threatening to file a claim.  Plaintiff argued that the close proximity in time between when he reported his injury and was terminated showed that Defendant had unfairly retaliated against him for threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim.  However the Court stated that the proximity of the date of injury to the termination date is not enough, standing alone, to show a causal connection.

Given the really close timing here, the Court’s decision seems incorrect.  But, it appears that because the plaintiff was not represented by an attorney, he did not develop the facts in his case as well as he could have. There well could have been more incriminating facts that were not put before the court.

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NC Court of Appeals Rejects Free Speech Retaliation Appeal

The North Carolina Court of Appeals published a decision in a free-speech retaliation case in  Ginsberg v. Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina.  The plaintiff, who worked at NC State University as a teaching assistant professor, contended that the University had violated her First Amendment free speech rights by punishing her in a hiring decision in retaliation for her protected speech.  On November 9, 2007, the plaintiff was reprimand by professors for purportedly showing bias during her introductory statements on a film that was being presented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Just weeks later, the plaintiff was de-listed as a first-tier candidate for an open tenure track position, and some of the professors who had reprimanded her were on the search committee.  Nonetheless, affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the Court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to present sufficient evidence of causation between her protected speech and the university’s hiring decision.  The Court held that she had not supported her claim “beyond mere speculation.”

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Patterson Harkavy Defeats Summary Jugment in Sexual Harassment Case

In the case of Pascoe v. Furniture Brands International, Judge Frank Whitney in the Western District of North Carolina denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of sexual harassment today.  The case will now proceed to trial, which is scheduled for later this month.  Ann Groninger and Joshua Van Kampen represent the plaintiffs, Pam Pascoe and Margaret Tambling, against their former employers in this case.

Judge Whitney did not issue a written decision, but plaintiff’s memorandum in opposition to summary judgment well describes this case:

This case raises a very poignant and present question, which is the extent of an employer’s liability under state and federal law for the conduct of a seemingly mentally unstable supervisor who tormented his female employees with threats of violence, including gun violence, surveillance of their homes, and numerous bizarre sexual comments. Regrettably, the conduct at issue in this case is a cautionary tale of an employer that flubbed the handling of a potentially dangerous situation by initially ignoring glaring warning signs, subsequently severely under-reacting to them, and which ultimately chose to circle the wagons around the proverbial outlaw, rather than act as a responsible member of our corporate community. Thankfully, Spicer did not turn his guns on these women as he said he might, but plaintiffs feared that he was fully capable of physically harming them. They have carried emotional scars left by Mr. Spicer’s conduct; injuries made worse by their employer’s betrayal of them. Defendants may aim to use their summary judgment motions to establish a low water mark of the protections afforded women in the workplace in North Carolina; however, plaintiffs respectfully submit that they have marshaled sufficient facts to permit a jury to answer that question.

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Fourth Circuit Rules USERRA Retaliation Claim Can Go To Trial

In a recent unpublished opinion, Bunting v. Town of Ocean City, the Fourth Circuit partially overturned a grant of summary judgment and allowed the plaintiff to proceed to trial on his USERRA retaliation claim.   USERRA is a federal statute that protects armed service members from being discriminated in employment because of their service.  Like other anti-discrimination laws, USERRA also protects against employer retaliation because of filing a USERRA complaint.

In this case, a police sergeant filed a USERRA complaint about service-based discrimination and was subsequently denied promotions that he applied for.  While the Fourth Circuit agreed there was not enough evidence to substantiate the initial USERRA complaint, the plaintiff had produced strong evidence of the subsequent retaliation by his employer.   Thus, summary judgment was partially reversed, allowing the retaliation claim to proceed to trial.

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Firm Defeats Summary Judgement in Age Discrimination Case

On December 22, Judge Voorhees in the Western District of North Carolina denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment in Fox v. Alexander County.  Terry Fox, the plaintiff, had been employed by Alexander County EMS since 1983 and had been promoted several times. In 2006, Fox was demoted and replaced by a younger worker, purportedly because of a slow response to a call.  The Judge, however, concluded that plaintiff had “ample evidence” that would allow a reasonable jury to believe that the reasons the county gave for demoting Fox – mainly that his team did not meet a standard response time on a call – were a pretext for age discrimination.

Accordingly, Fox’s claims for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) and under North Carolina state law can proceed to trial.  This decision is a significant victory because North Carolina federal courts rarely rule for employment law plaintiffs when deciding summary judgment motions.  Fox is represented by Joshua Van Kampen.

More from the opinion below:  Read more…

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