About the Firm

Attorney Brian H. Alligood provides top quality, aggressive legal representation to individuals and businesses throughout North Carolina. Mr. Alligood regularly represents parties in disputes arising from all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. Employment issues frequently litigated include claims of discriminatory hiring and employment practices, sexual harassment, retaliation and wrongful discharge, wage and hour violations, breach of contract and no-compete covenants, and employee benefits litigation. In addition to confronting claims of traditional employment discrimination, Mr. Alligood represents parties with respect to statutory rights and obligations imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.

Mr. Alligood regularly appears in all North Carolina state and federal courts and administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the North Carolina Department of Labor, and the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Federal Court dismisses Age Discrimination suit brought by North Carolina employment applicant

A recent North Carolina employment law decision confirms the importance of timely filed EEOC charges and adequately framed pleadings in employment discrimination actions.  The case, Hansen v. Siemens Energy, 2012 Westlaw 5388920 (W.D.N.C. 2012), reaffirms important procedural defenses that can arise in response to defectively grounded or presented claims of employment discrimination.

The plaintiff, Elmer Hansen, unsuccessfully applied for a welder maintenance position with Siemens Energy on two separate occasions.  He first applied on September 16, 2010 by electronically uploading his resume to the company’s career website.  After completing an online assessment, Mr. Hansen received a required Career Readiness Certificate, but he did not thereafter receive an invitation to participate in the next phase of training. 

Roughly one year later, Mr. Hansen learned from a CharlotteObserver newspaper article that Siemens still had need for skilled workers.  Mr. Hansen then re-applied for the same welder-maintenance position in January of 2012.  After again receiving no invitation to interview, Mr. Hansen filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in March of 2012.  

Mr. Hansen later filed a federal lawsuit against Siemens in which he alleged that the company failed to hire him, on both occasions, because of age discrimination.  Siemens filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which the Court recently granted.

In its ruling, the Court first dismissed the employment discrimination claim arising from the 2010 application because the plaintiff failed to file a timely EEOC charge of discrimination with respect to that application.  Under the applicable AgeDiscrimination in Employment Act, a person alleging age discrimination must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory act.  Because the plaintiff’s charge of discrimination was not filed until March of 2012, the Court made short work of dismissing the age discrimination claim as to the 2010 application.

The Court then dismissed the remaining age discrimination claim on grounds that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief adequately with respect to the 2012 application.  Here, the Court noted the plaintiff’s obligation to plead facts sufficient to render the claim of age discrimination plausible, as opposed to merely conceivable.  The Court cited to the United States Supreme Court’s Twombly line of cases for this principle.

The Court then determined that the plaintiff’s complaint, even as to the 2012 employment application, was fatally defective in several particulars.  For example, the Court noted that the complaint contained no allegation as to whether the plaintiff’s application was, in fact, rejected, or whether the position sought remained open or was filled by a similarly qualified younger person.  In fact, the complaint failed to present any allegations with respect to what other applicants were considered and/or chosen, or how an inference of discrimination could otherwise be supported.  The Court found the plaintiff’s mere conclusory statement that he believed discrimination had occurred insufficient to state a valid cause of action.

Notably, the plaintiff in this case represented himself in what is known as a pro se capacity.  Early in its decision, the Court noted that pro se complaints are to be construed liberally so as “to ensure that valid claims do not fail for lack of legal specificity.”  The Court further explained that courts must look beyond the face of the complaint to allegations made in any materials filed by the pro se plaintiff in order to ensure that “form does not trump substance.”  At the same time, the Court emphasized that, under the Twombly line of authority, even a pro se plaintiff is obligated to plead facts sufficient to “budge claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” 

After weighing these somewhat competing considerations, the Court had no apparent reservation about dismissing the case.  The ruling therefore underscores the importance of capable counsel for all parties in employment litigation.


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