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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.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

North Carolina Federal Court Dismisses Wrongful Discharge Claims Under Both ADEA and North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act



In previous posts, we have discussed the exacting proof that is necessary in order for a claim of age discrimination to prevail.  A United States District Court case from the Western District of North Carolina, Darnell v. Tyson Foods, Inc., demonstrates well the proof challenges an age discrimination plaintiff faces. 

As we explained in a previous post, the Court dismissed this case short of trial in part because it determined that a company’s decision to require a 63 year-old, forty year veteran employee to change to a third shift position, immediately after his return from prostate surgery, was not an adverse employment action.  The Court therefore determined that the plaintiff could not establish the second of four essential elements of a prima facie case of age discrimination.

In its decision, the Court also found that the plaintiff failed to establish the fourth and final element of the required prima facie case of age discrimination.  Recall from our prior posts that this fourth element requires a showing that the employment position from which the plaintiff was terminated remained open or that the plaintiff was replaced by a substantially younger individual.

In this case, the plaintiff was eventually replaced by a 57 year-old man.  In other words, the plaintiff’s replacement was only six years younger.  The Court therefore assessed whether a six year difference in age was sufficient to constitute replacement by a substantially younger individual.  After noting that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which is the Circuit that oversees North Carolina federal district courts), the Court found that sister circuits have generally found age differences of less than ten years insufficient to satisfy this prima facie case element.  The Court then determined, “[a]bsent any evidence to suggest discrimination, the six year age difference in this case is not sufficient by itself to satisfy the substantially younger requirement.”  Consequently, the plaintiff’s prima facie case failed for this further reason.

In the absence of a prima facie case of age discrimination, the plaintiff’s primary claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) was dismissed via summary judgment.

Finally, the plaintiff had also asserted an alternative claim for wrongful discharge under North Carolina state law.  The plaintiff based this claim on N.C. Stat.Gen § 143–422.2, a statute recognizing that it is against North Carolina public policy for an employer of 15 or more to discriminate, “on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap.”  The statute is found in North Carolina’s Equal Employment Practices Act.  In its opinion, the Court made short work in dismissing this alternative claim for the same reasons cited in dismissing the federal age discrimination claim.  In this way, the Court concluded, as have other federal courts to consider the issue, that the North Carolina public policy claim is subject to the same analysis and proof standards as the analogous federal law cause of action.

Darnell demonstrates well the proof difficulties that claims of age discrimination face.  In addition, the case confirms that North Carolina public policy claims are hardly a panacea for claimants.  Although claims pursued under North Carolina’s Equal Employment Practices Act offers certain advantages, such as a longer limitations period and the option of foregoing EEOC administrative review, these claims are ultimately subject to the same substantive analysis and demanding proof requirements as claims pursued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.


3 comments:

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  2. "As we explained in a previous post, the Court dismissed this case short of trial in part because it determined that a company’s decision to require a 63 year-old, forty year veteran employee to change to a third shift position, immediately after his return from prostate surgery, was not an adverse employment action." - The court finds that the company promotes prostate cancer and thus the 63 year old is used to it. Furthermore, since third shift causes SWSD and thousands of wrongful deaths each year, creating wrongful deaths is not adverse employment action. This is as useless as an ineffective restraining order system.

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  3. At least, they have now the final decision to the said case.




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