Latrice Woodard v. The County of Wilson


UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 5:07-cv-00006-D Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. [998415287] [08-2366]

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Latrice Woodard v. The County of Wilson Doc. 0 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 1 UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 08-2366 LATRICE ALSTON WOODARD, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. THE COUNTY OF WILSON; WILSON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Defendants - Appellees. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, District Judge. (5:07-cv-00006-D) Argued: March 24, 2010 Decided: August 31, 2010 Before MICHAEL and DAVIS, Circuit Judges, and Eugene E. SILER, Jr., Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation. Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion. ARGUED: Angela Newell Gray, GRAY NEWELL, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Mary Craven Adams, WOMBLE, CARLYLE, SANDRIDGE & RICE, PLLC, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: James R. Morgan, Jr., WOMBLE, CARLYLE, SANDRIDGE & RICE, PLLC, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellees. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 2 PER CURIAM: Latrice Wilson County Alston Woodard, of a social worker with the was Department Social Services (WCDSS), dismissed from her employment under WCDSS's anti-nepotism policy after she married the son of a WCDSS day porter. WCDSS and the County of Wilson, North Woodard sued alleging Carolina, violation of her constitutional right to marry and various state tort claims. summary After discovery, defendants successfully moved for in the district court. Finding this case judgment indistinguishable from Waters v. Gaston County, 57 F.3d 422 (4th Cir. 1995), where we upheld a similar anti-nepotism policy under rational basis review, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants. I. WCDSS Wilson, policy, North is a governmental WCDSS of division maintains of an the County of Carolina. "Statement anti-nepotism The entitled Relatives' Employment." policy prohibits "[t]wo members of an immediate family" from being "employed within the same department/agency." J.A. 196. It defines "immediate family" to include a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The WCDSS policy is authorized by the North Carolina Administrative Code, 25 NCAC 01I.1701-1702, which is in 2 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 3 turn authorized by North Carolina statute, N.C.G.S. 126-1, et seq. The anti-nepotism policy has been consistently enforced at WCDSS over a number of years. 1985, and James Glenn Osborne, Jr., the It was created in current director of WCDSS, kept the policy in place when he became director in 1994. Director Osborne maintained the policy because he believed it was in the best interest of the citizens of Wilson County. thought it prevented violations of confidentiality, He prevented the public appearance of unfair hiring and promotion practices, avoided potential domestic disputes of in the workplace, Of the and two limited known conflicts interest. other incidents of WCDSS employees violating the policy, one of the two employees voluntarily resigned to ensure compliance. is no instance where two employees violated the There and policy thereafter both were allowed to remain at WCDSS. Plaintiff Woodard began working for WCDSS in August 2001 as a Child Protective Services Social Worker. Prior to being hired, Woodard was made aware of the anti-nepotism policy and acknowledged the Statement of Relatives' Employment with her signature. Judy Vaughn, Woodard's current mother-in-law, has Neither worked as a day porter at WCDSS since August 15, 1994. woman supervised the other, although Vaughn was in charge of 3 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 4 cleaning Woodard's office, and the two would occasionally cross paths at work. Woodard met Vaughn's son at a restaurant in Wilson County, and the two started to date in March 2003. engaged on May 1, 2005. resource that After a series and to of They became with meetings supervisors, Woodard policy was would human employees, no exception Director the gave make a Osborne, informed be to anti-nepotism Woodard an made. resign Director and Osborne to opportunity offered favorable recommendation for employment with nearby counties. Woodard married Vaughn's son on July 15, 2006. This made Woodard a daughter-in-law to Vaughn and Vaughn a mother-inlaw to Woodard, policy. thus causing both to violate WCDSS's had anti- nepotism After confirming that Woodard married Vaughn's son and would not resign, Director Osborne dismissed Woodard Director Woodard, from WCDSS on July 25, 2006. On August in a 3, 2006, to than Osborne memorialized that the decision was letter rather explaining Woodard dismissed, Vaughn, because Woodard initiated the action that caused both her and Vaughn to violate WCDSS's anti-nepotism policy. On December 5, 2006, Woodard filed a complaint against WCDSS and the County of Wilson in the General Court of Justice, Superior Carolina. Court Division, The for the County of Wilson, and North federal complaint 4 asserts state Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 5 constitutional termination, intentional violations and state of tort claims for wrongful and negligent infliction infliction of emotional distress. distress, emotional Defendants removed the action to the Eastern District of North Carolina on January 5, 2007. The district court granted defendants' summary judgment motion on November 13, 2008, and Woodard now appeals. II. "We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing all facts and inferences in the light most favorable" to Woodard. Food Lion, Inc. v. S.L. Nusbaum Summary Ins. Agency, Inc., 202 F.3d 223, 227 (4th Cir. 2000). judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Woodard Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). argues that WCDSS's anti-nepotism policy violates her fundamental right to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment Section Carolina to the United North States Constitution and Article The I, 19 of the Carolina Constitution. these two North Supreme Court interprets constitutional provisions conterminously. See Tri-County Paving, Inc. v. Ashe The alleged County, 281 F.3d 430, 435 n.6 (4th Cir. 2002). constitutional violations undergird Woodard's state tort claims 5 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 6 for wrongful termination, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. "It is well-settled law that the Constitution embraces a fundamental right to marry" and that this right is "recognized as a basic tenet of substantive due process." County, 57 F.3d 422, 425 (4th Cir. 1995). Waters v. Gaston However, "not every restriction on the right to marry violate[s] the Constitution; rather, `reasonable regulations that do not significantly interfere with decisions to enter into the marital relationship may legitimately be imposed.'" Id. (quoting Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 386 (1978)). Therefore, strict scrutiny applies "only to regulations that `significantly interfere' with the right to marry." If the anti-nepotism Id. (quoting Zablocki, 434 U.S. at 388). policy does not significantly interfere with the right to marry, then we will "facially review [it] to determine whether there was a rational basis for its passage." Id. at 426. In Waters we held that the anti-nepotism policy for Gaston County, North Carolina, did not significantly interfere with the right to marry. Id. Gaston County's policy did not In the allow spouses to be employed in the same department. event two employees within the same department married, each was given 90 days to obtain a transfer to another department. If a transfer was not available, the policy described neutral methods 6 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 7 for determining which employee would be terminated. n.1. We found that this anti-nepotism policy Id. at 424 "may [have] touch[ed] upon the marriage relationship" but did "not directly and substantially interfere with that right by preventing those who wish[ed] to marry from doing so." omitted). "At most," we explained, Id. at 426 (quotations "it [wa]s an unwelcome hurdle, forcing one spouse to attempt to transfer to another department within the County or to leave the County's employ altogether." Id. stands for the general proposition that Waters anti-nepotism policies do not significantly interfere with the right to marry and should be reviewed under the rational basis standard. that In an attempt to distinguish Waters, Woodard argues scrutiny should apply to WCDSS's anti-nepotism strict policy because WCDSS restricts not only married partners from working together but also immediate family members. Although the WCDSS policy covers more family members than the policy in Waters, the reasoning in Waters does not depend on the number of people affected by the policy. Like the policy in Waters, the WCDSS policy does "not directly and substantially interfere with [the] right [to marry] by preventing those who wish to marry from doing so." Id. (quotations omitted). Indeed, Woodard was able to marry Vaughn's son. "At most," the WCDSS policy "is an unwelcome hurdle, forcing" Woodard to attempt to find a position 7 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 8 outside WCDSS "or to leave the County's employ altogether." Id. This hurdle does not restrict marriage; instead, it "is a workrelated restriction Id. The remaining differences between the policy here and that in Waters are not material to Woodard's claim. Woodard with incidental effects on [Woodard's] marriage." points out that the WCDSS anti-nepotism policy, unlike that in Waters, does not explicitly provide an opportunity to apply for a transfer, nor does it contain a neutral process to determine which employee will be terminated. These differences are, at most, relevant to whether the procedure for firing Woodard was constitutionally sufficient and do not touch on the substantive right to marry. inadequate further. Finding WCDSS with Waters indistinguishable, "does of not we hold that the Because Woodard has not pursued a claim of we need not consider these differences process, anti-nepotism the policy right significantly Id. interfere Thus, "we fundamental marriage." facially review [it] to determine whether there was a rational basis for its passage." Id. Director Osborne explained that he retained the policy because it "serves a number of proactive, preventive measures." Director Osborne are J.A. 191. "rational and Among those articulated by laudable workplace goals" that we approved of in Waters, such as "reducing favoritism or 8 Case: 08-2366 Document: 28 Date Filed: 08/31/2010 Page: 9 even the appearance from of favoritism" the and "preventing 57 F.3d family at 426 conflicts affecting workplace." (quotations omitted). The WCDSS anti-nepotism policy therefore Woodard's state law tort claims survives rational basis review. * likewise fail for the same reason. III. For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED. Woodard argues that the WCDSS anti-nepotism policy is not narrowly drawn because it is more restrictive than the County of Wilson anti-nepotism policy. As discussed, the WCDSS policy is not reviewed with strict scrutiny. The WCDSS policy is authorized by North Carolina law, and WCDSS may choose an antinepotism policy that is more restrictive than the County of Wilson policy so long as it has a rational basis. 9 *

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