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Employee is own lawyer? NC law on your side

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

North Carolina’s employment and discrimination laws would appear to give em­­ployees many ways to sue their employers. Fortunately, each has specific requirements, which means employees who act as their own lawyers will have a hard time using them to sue you.

Recent case: Kathryn was a correctional officer for North Caro­­lina Department of Public Safety. Two years into the job, she filed a sexual harassment complaint, alleging that a supervisor had har­­assed her. However, after filing an EEOC complaint, she never pursued a lawsuit because she said she couldn’t afford an attorney.

Later, Kathryn got into a fight with a co-worker, leading to her termination.

Representing herself, Kathryn sued, alleging she had been retaliated against for filing the original EEOC complaint. Her suit cited several federal laws, plus the North Carolina Equal Em­­ployment Practices Act (NCEEPA), the public policy exception to the state’s at-will employment doctrine and the North Caro­­lina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA).

The court dismissed each claim. It pointed out that the NCEEPA does not let employees sue to enforce equal employment rights. It concluded that the public policy exception doesn’t cover sexual harassment retaliation. Finally, it noted that under the REDA, employees must complain to the state Department of Labor within 180 days of the alleged em­­­­ployment incident. Kathryn had not done so. Her case was dismissed. (Johnson v. State of North Caro­­lina, No. 5:11-CV-57, WD NC, 2012)

Final note: Of course, you shouldn’t ignore North Carolina anti-discrimination laws. Employees often find competent attorneys who are waiting to pounce on employers that let their guards down. If you aren’t familiar with these laws, educate yourself.

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