About the Firm
The law firm of Sharpless & Stavola, P.A. provides top quality, aggressive legal representation to individuals and businesses throughout North Carolina. A core practice area of the firm is employment litigation, where our attorneys regularly represent parties in disputes arising from all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. Employment issues frequently litigated by the firm 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, the firm represents parties with respect to statutory rights and obligations imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.
On behalf of our clients, we regularly appear 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).
Sharpless & Stavola, P.A. is a Martindale-Hubbell “AV” rated law firm. Please review the firm’s webpage for additional information, including individual attorney profiles. The firm's telephone number is 336-333-6400.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Fourth Circuit Finds Plaintiff’s Allegations of Sexual Harrassment Sufficient to State a Claim for Relief
On December 1, 2012, in the case of Sheila Davis v. City of Charlottesville School Board, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (the Circuit with jurisdiction over North Carolina's federal courts) vacated a District Court’s dismissal of a sexual harassment complaint filed by Sheila Davis against the City of Charlottesville School Board. Presently, only the slip opinion is available; click here to view the slip opinion.
As the opinion explains, in order to establish a claim for coworker sexual harassment under federal law, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct was unwelcome, that it was based on gender, that it “was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment,” and that it is “imputable to her employer.” See, e.g., Ocheltree v. Scollon Prods., Inc., 335 F.3d 325, 331 (4th Cir. 2003).
Ms. Davis alleged that she was the subject of an attempted sexual assault by a coworker and that she immediately reported the incident to a supervisor. She alleged that she then suffered an unwanted intimate touching by the same coworker the very next day. The district court concluded that Ms. Davis had not alleged any facts that would entitle her to relief and dismissed her complaint. The Fourth Circuit disagreed. It found that the facts alleged by Davis, including the physical nature of the harassment, stated a plausible claim that the assault was “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to survive dismissal. Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit held that Ms. Davis sufficiently alleged facts that could demonstrate liability on behalf of her employer, since she immediately reported the harassment and the harassment occurred again thereafter.
In sum, the Fourth Circuit held that Ms. Davis’s original complaint was sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief, and the district court’s judgment was reversed and remanded. The opinion is notable inasmuch as it confirms that even misconduct that is limited in frequency can suffice to establish a sexual harassment claim when the conduct is severe in nature.
The Davis case reaffirms the difficulties posed by allegations of workplace sexual misconduct. Even in traditionally conservative federal circuits, when sexual misconduct is alleged to have recurred after reporting, such cases will almost surely reach a jury for final determination. If you are confronting issues of work place harassment, it is important to speak with experienced North Carolina employment lawyers. Please feel free to contact me directly at (336) 333-6375 to discuss the case or other North Carolina employment law matters. For more information about my Greensboro law firm of Sharpless & Stavola, please visit our website at www.sharpless-stavola.com.