Hunter, Wall Get NC COA Win In Wrongful Discharge In Violation of Public Policy Case

July 25, 2022
Robert N. Hunter
Jonathan Wall

Robert N. Hunter Jr. and Jon Wall of Higgins Benjamin, PLLC, in Greensboro secured a reversal of a dismissal in a case alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy (WDPP), in Woody v. Accuquest, Hearing Ctr., LLC, No. COA21-563, 2022 N.C. App. LEXIS 512 (July 19, 2022).  Plaintiff alleged she was terminated because of a disability, atrial fibrillation, in violation of the public policy expressed in the Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-422.2.  The trial court concluded that the Persons with Disabilities Protection Act (PDPA), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 168A-1, et seq., preempted any common-law action.  It applied the PDPA’s 180 days limitation period and dismissed the action.

            The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed, noting that the PDPA was silent on whether it was intended to preempt common-law actions.  The Court observed that both statutes were remedial in nature, and therefore should be liberally construed to effectuate their purposes.  It reaffirmed the principal that “the availability of alternative remedies does not prevent a plaintiff from seeking tort remedies for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy” (citing Amos v. Oakdale Knotting Co., 331 N.C. 348, 356-57 (1992)).  Concluding that the complaint stated a viable WDPP claim, the Court applied the WDPP three-year limitations period and held Plaintiff’s complaint was therefore timely. 

Wall said: “It is very gratifying that the Court upheld the viability of wrongful discharge claims, and that my client can now have her day in court.”

Hunter is a member of NCAJ’s Civil Rights Section. Wall is Legal Affairs Co-Chair of the Employment Law Section.