What Are My State Rights

 

North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (NCEEPA)

 

The NCEEPA makes it the “public policy of [the] State to… safeguard the opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination… on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap.”1 This Act closely mirrors the intent of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which is a federal law that likewise applies to employers of fifteen or more employees.2 Unlike Title VII, however, the NCEEPA alone is little more than a declarative policy and does not offer any remedies.3

 

Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

 

Under North Carolina law, employment is generally presumed to be at-will, meaning that unless a contract has been established, neither the employer nor the employee has an obligation to continue the employment relationship.4 The major exception to this presumption, other than the existence of a contract, is the concept known as the “public policy wrongful discharge doctrine.”5 To have an actionable claim under the doctrine, an employee must show that they have been discharged in violation of public policy, either by committing or refusing to commit an act.6 This cause of action uses the NCEEPA as a “vehicle” to provide a state common law remedy for situations that previously could only be remedied under federal law.7

 

How is the state law different from federal law?

 

North Carolina’s common law cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy differs in several significant ways from the federal Title VII protections. Most significantly, it only applies to individuals who have actually been fired from their position, and cannot be used in cases of demotion, loss of wages or benefits, or transfer. Also, because it is rooted in state common law, interpretations of this doctrine have been evolving since its inception in 1985. 8For more information about how the law has developed in North Carolina pertaining to each of the seven types of discrimination, see the corresponding sections (e.g., “Pregnancy Discrimination”).

 

How can I enforce my rights?

 

If you have been discriminated against in the workplace, you cannot always (and often do not want to) proceed directly to a courtroom. Instead, you should first consider the variety of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods available to you, and the type of claim you would file if you chose to bring your case to court. You have several options, and you must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each. Try to take into account the circumstances and evidence particular to your case as well as the policies, procedures, and past legal outcomes in your state.

For example, the EEOC field office in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers mediation as a form of ADR. Mediation is an informal process that uses a neutral third party to help you and your employer come to a voluntary resolution to your charge of discrimination.9 The decision to mediate is up to you and your employer, and the results of the process are strictly confidential.10 For more information about EEOC mediation services available in North Carolina, contact the Charlotte District Office’s ADR Coordinator, Michael Vaughan, at 704-954-6458 or michel.vaughan@eeoc.gov.11

I
f you decide to pursue a charge of discrimination, you should contact your EEOC District Office in Charlotte. The office is located at 129 West Trade Street, Suite 400, Charlotte, NC 28202. They are open for charge receipts Monday through Friday from 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m.. You may report your charge via telephone (1-800-669-4000).12

Remember, you have 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory incident to report it before your opportunity to pursue your claim expires. If you are a state or county employee covered by the North Carolina State Personnel Act, you have 300 days from the date of the alleged discrimination to file a charge with the EEOC.13 If you would like more information about the Charlotte District Office of the EEOC, visit the website at: http://www.eeoc.gov/field/charlotte/.

 

 

1 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-422.1 (1999).
2 Id.
3 Andrew B. Cohen, Wrongful Discharge and the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act: The Localization of Federal Discrimination Law, 21 N.C. Cent. L.J. 54, 55 (1995).
4 See J. Wilson Parker, The Uses of the Past: The Surprising History of Terminable-At-Will Employment in North Carolina, 22 Wake Forest L. Rev. 167 (1987).
5 Susan K. Datesman, Sides v. Duke Hospital: A Public Policy Exception to the Employment-At-Will Rule, 64 N.C. L. Rev. 840, 841 (1986).
6 J. Michael McGuinness, North Carolina’s Developing Public Policy Wrongful Discharge Doctrine in the New Millennium: Basic Principles, Causation & Proof of Improper Motive, 23 Campbell L. Rev. 203, 209 (2001).
7 Cohen, supra note 660, at 55.
8 See Sides v. Duke University, 328 S.E. 2d 818 (N.C. Ct. App. 1985).
9 EEOC, http://www.eeoc.gov/field/charlotte/mediation.cfm (last visited Feb. 10, 2010).
10 Id.
11 EEOC, http://www.eeoc.gov/field/charlotte/mediation.cfm (last visited Mar. 5, 2010).
12 EEOC, http://www.eeoc.gov/field/charlotte/charge.cfm (last visited Mar. 5, 2010).
13 North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, http://www.ncoah.com/civil/faq.html (last visited Mar. 5, 2010).