Miles-Stephens v. North Carolina Department of Corrections
ORDER granting 29 Motion for Summary Judgment - Signed by Chief Judge James C. Dever III on 07/07/2014. (Baker, C.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT
On October 26, 2011, Angela Miles-Stephens ("Miles-Stephens" or "plaintiff') sued the
North Carolina Department of Corrections (''NCDOC" or "defendant") alleging employment
discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981,and42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl. [D.E.lV Miles-Stephens (who is an African-American
woman) alleges that she applied for 21 positions with the NCDOC between February 6, 2010, and
December 22, 2010, but that the NCDOC did not hire her due to her race. See Compl. (count one).
Miles-Stephens also alleges that the NCDOC did not hire her in retaliation for an EEOC charge that
she filed concerning the NCDOC in 2006 and settled in February 2007. See id. (count two).
On November 12, 2013, the NCDOC filed a motion for summary judgment. See [D.E. 29].
On January 6, 2014, Miles-Stephens responded in opposition. See [D.E. 32]. As explained below,
the court grants the NCDOC's motion for summary judgment.
The NCDOC is now called the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff and applies well-established principles under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Celotex
Com. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325-26 (1986); Anderson v. LibertY Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-55 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986).
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The party seeking summary judgment must initially come forward
and demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp., 4 77 U.S. at 325.
Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate
that there exists a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See Matsushim, 475 U.S. at 587. "[T]here
is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to
return. a verdict for that party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at249. Conjectural arguments will not suffice.
See id. at 249-52; Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) ("The nonmoving party ...
cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one
inference upon another."). Likewise, a "mere ... scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving
party's] position [will not suffice]; there must be evidence on which the [fact finder] could
reasonably flnd for the [nonmoving party]." Apderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see Evans v. Techs.
Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996).
First, the NCDOC argues that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over MilesStephens's Title Vll claims. See [D.E. 30] 7-9. In support, the NCDOC relies on 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(c) and Davis v. North CarolinaDepartmentofCorrection, 48 F.3d 134, 137-38 (4th Cir.
1995). Section 2000e-5(c) states:
In the case of an alleged unlawful employment practice occurring in a State, or
political subdivision of a State, which has a State or local law prohibiting the
unlawful employment practice alleged and establishing or authorizing a State or local
authority to grant or seek relief from such practice ... , no charge may be filed under
subsection (a) of this section by the person aggrieved before the expiration of sixty
days after proceedings have been commenced under the State or local law, unless
such proceedings have been earlier terminated, provided that such sixty-day period
shall be extended to one hundred and twenty days during the first year after the
effective date of such State or local law. If any requirement for the commencement
of such proceedings is imposed by a State or local authority other than a requirement
of the filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding
is based, the proceeding shall be deemed to have been commenced for the purposes
of this subsection at the time such statement is sent by registered mail to the
appropriate State or local authority.
42 U.S. C.§ 2000e-5(c). In Davis, the Fourth Circuit construed section 2000e-5(c) and held that:
where state law protects persons against the kind of discrimination alleged,
complainants are required to resort to state and local remedies before they may
proceed to the EEOC, and then to federal court, on their claims of discrimination
under federal law. This requirement is rooted in~ policy of cooperation between the
federal government and the states, and is designed to give state agencies ~ limited
opportunity to resolve problems of employment discrimination and thereby to make
unnecessazy, resort 1Q federal reliefby victims of discrimination. Section 2000e-5(c)
has resulted in EEOC's development of a referral and deferral system in which the
EEOC delays processing [discrimination] claim[s] while the complainant first
proceeds under state law in ~ state forum.
Id. at 13 7 (emphasis added) (citations and quotations omitted). When Davis applies and a plaintiff
has failed first to resort to state remedies under state law in a state forum, a district court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over an ensuing Title VII claim. See id. at 137-40; Greene v. Swain
Cnty. P'ship for Health, 342 F. Supp. 2d 442, 447-49 (W.D.N.C. 2004); Metts v. N.C. Dep't of
Revenue, No. 7:99-CV-131-BR(2), 2000 WL 1517726, at *2-4 (E.D.N.C. Jan. 5, 2000)
(unpublished); Henderson v. Emp't Sec. Comm'n ofN.C., 910 F. Supp. 252, 253-55 (W.D.N.C.
Under North Carolina law, Miles-Stephens could have sought relief for alleged race
discrimination and unlawful retaliation in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings.
N.C. Gen. Stat.§§ 126-34.1(b)(3), 126-36 (repealed 2013) (current version at N.C. Gen.
Stat.§ 126-34.02(a), (b)(1)--(2)); Bratcherv. Pharm. Prod. Dev.. Inc., 545 F. Supp. 2d 533,539,543
Moreover, upon finding race discrimination or retaliation, the Office of
Administrative Hearing could "order the employment ... of any individual.,, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 12637(a) (repealed 2013) (current version at N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 126-34.02(a)(2)); Wright v. Blue Ridge
Area Auth., 134 N.C. App. 668, 668-76, 518 S.E.2d 772, 773-77 (1999). As in Davis, Greene,
Metts, and Henderson, Miles-Stephens was required first to pursue her case concerning alleged race
discrimination and retaliation in the Office of Administrative Hearings. Because Miles-Stephens
failed to do so, this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over her Title VII claims.
48 F.3d at 137-40; Greene, 342 F. Supp. 2d at 447-49; Metts, 2000 WL 1517726, at *2-4;
HendersoD, 910 F. Supp. at 253-55. Thus, the court grants summary judgment to the NCDOC, and
dismisses Miles-Stephens,s Title VII claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Alternatively, even if this court had subject-matter jurisdiction over Miles-Stephens's Title
VII claims, the court would still grant summary judgment to the NCDOC. As for Miles-Stephens,s
Title VII race-discrimination claim, Miles-Stephens does not have any direct evidence of race
discrimination. Instead, she proceeds under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973), which "established an allocation of the burden of production and an order for the
presentation of proof in ... discriminatory-treatment cases.,, St. Mazy's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509
U.S. 502, 506(1993). Under McDonnell Douglas, theplaintifffirstmustestablishaprimafaciecase
of discrimination. See id.; Tex. Dep't ofCmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981).
If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce evidence
that the defendant took adverse employment action "for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason."
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254. This burden is one of production, not persuasion. St. Mary's Honor Ctr.,
509 U.S. at 509. If the defendant offers admissible evidence sufficient to meet its burden of
production, ''the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that
the employer's stated reasons were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Hill
v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277,285 (4th Cir. 2004) (en bane) (quotation
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000); Burdine,
450 U.S. at 256; Iqng v. Rumsfeld, 328 F.3d 145, 150-54 (4th Cir. 2003). A plaintiff can
demonstrate pretext by showing that the employer's "explanation is unworthy of credence or by
offering other forms of circumstantial evidence sufficiently probative of [illegal] discrimination."
Mereish v. Walker, 359 F.3d 330, 336 (4th Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted); McDougal-Wilson v.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 427 F. Supp. 2d 595, 603-04 (E.D.N.C. 2006).
In order to establish a prima facie case of failure to hire based on race, Miles-Stephens must
show that (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she applied and was qualified for a job for which
the employer was seeking applicants; (3) despite her qualifications, she was rejected; and (4) after
her rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from
persons of her qualifications. See,~' EEOC v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 243 F.3d 846, 851 (4th Cir.
2001); Brown v. McLean, 159 F.3d 898, 902-04 (4th Cir. 1998).
Miles-Stephens asserts that she applied for 21 positions with the NCDOC between February
6, 2010, and December 22,2010, but she fails to identify 19 of the positions with particularity. The
only position Miles-Stephens identifies with particularity is the clinical social worker position in
Hoke County, for which Miles-Stephens applied twice. 2 Where a plaintiff fails to identify the
specific job for which she applied, her qualifications for that job, and the circumstances giving rise
to an inference of race discrimination, a plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case. See, ~.
Brown, 159 F.3d at 903-04. Thus, the court grants summary judgment to the NCDOC as to all
applications except for the two that Miles-Stephens submitted for the clinical social worker position
in Hoke County.
As for the two times that Miles-Stephens sought the clinical social worker position in Hoke
County, the court assumes without deciding that Miles-Stephens has established a prima facie case.
In turn, the NCDOC has articulated a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not selecting her: she
was not the most qualified applicant. See [D.E. 30-3, 30-4]; cf. Evans, 80 F.3d at 960 (employer's
good-faith beliefthat another candidate is better qualified is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason).
Thus, the issue becomes whether Miles-Stephens has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to
A plaintiff can demonstrate pretext by showing that the alleged non-discriminatory
"explanation is unworthy of credence or by offering other forms of circumstantial evidence
On April 30, 2010, Miles-Stephens submitted her first application for the clinical social
worker position in Hoke County. See Compl. 4; [D.E. 30-4] 39-44. On May 18,2010, a panel of
three people (including an African-American woman) interviewed Miles-Stephens and one other
candidate for the position. See [D.E. 30-4] 10. The NCDOC offered the job to the other applicant,
who declined the offer. See id. ~ 4; 38 (rejection letter dated May 24, 201 0). The NCDOC then
reposted the position. On June 9, 2010, Miles-Stephens reapplied. See Compl. 4; [D.E. 30-4]
108-114. On July 22, 2010, another panel ofthree people (composed of two of the same individuals
who previously interviewed Miles-Stephens, and a different African-American woman) interviewed
Miles-Stephens and two other candidates for the position. See [D.E. 30-4] 94, 96. The NCDOC
offered the job to another applicant, who accepted the offer. See id. ~ 5; 107 (rejection letter dated
July 26, 2010).
sufficiently probative of [race] discrimination." Mereish, 359 F.3d at 336 (quotation omitted). In
analyzing pretext, the court does not sit to decide whether the defendant in fact discriminated against
the plaintiff on the basis of race. See,~' Holland v. Washington Homes. Inc., 487 F.3d 208, 217
(4th Cir. 2007); Hawkins v. PepsiCo. Inc., 203 F.3d 274,279-80 (4th Cir. 2000). Rather, the court
focuses on whether the plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to pretext within the
meaning of Reeves and its Fourth Circuit progeny.
Miles-Stephens has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning pretext. Lynn
Summers was the hiring manager for the clinical social worker position. See [D.E. 30-4] ~ 3. In
accordance with NCDOC policy, the NCDOC established a three-person interview panel. Id. ~ 4.
Summers was not on the panel. Id. The panel interviewed Miles-Stephens, but recommended a
candidate for the position that the panel believed was better qualified. Id. Summers agreed with the
recommendation. Id. The candidate, however, declined the job offer. Id. The NCDOC then
reposted the position and had another three-person interview panel conduct interviews. Id. ~ 5. The
panel again interviewed Miles-Stephens, but recommended a different candidate as the most
qualified candidate. Id. Summers approved the recommendation, and the other candidate was hired.
In support ofits motion for summary judgement, the NCDOC attached copies of the relevant
employment and interview documents concerning the clinical social worker position. See id. ~ 7 &
Ex. A. Nothing in these records suggests race discrimination. See id. Miles-Stephens's speculation
about pretext is not enough.
Holland, 487 F.3d at 216-18; Price v. Thompson, 380 F.3d
209, 215-17 (4th Cir. 2004); Mereish, 359 F.3d at 336-39; Tinsley v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 155
F.3d 435, 444 (4th Cir. 1998). Likewise, Miles-Stephens's perception of her own experience,
performance, and skills is not relevant. It is the perception of the decisionmaker that counts. See,
~.King, 328 F.3d at 149; Hawkins, 203 F.3d at 280; Smith v. Flax, 618 F.2d 1062, 1067 (4th Cir.
1980); McDougal-Wilson, 427 F. Supp. 2d at 607. Finally, the court rejects Miles-Stephens's
argument that Title Vll prohibited the NCDOC from considering a candidate's interview
performance as part of the decisionmaking process concerning the clinical social worker position.
See,~. Torgerson v. Ci1y of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1049 (8th Cir. 2011) (en bane); Turner v.
Pub. Serv. Co. of Colo., 563 F.3d 1136, 1145-46 (lOth Cir. 2009); Briggs v. Potter, 463 F.3d 507,
516 (6th Cir. 2006); Malloryv. Booth Refrigeration Supply Co., 882 F.2d 908,910 (4th Cir. 1989);
Holleyv. N.C. Dep'tofAdmin., 846 F. Supp. 2d416, 438 (E.D.N.C. 2012). Interview performance
was relevant to the position, and the NCDOC properly considered it. See,~. Amirmokri v. Bait.
Gas & Elec. Co., 60 F.3d 1126, 1130 (4th Cir. 1995); Mallory, 882 F.2d at 910-11; Holley, 846 F.
Supp. 2d at 438. Thus, Miles-Stephens's Title Vll race-discrimination claim fails.
As for Miles-Stephens's Title Vll retaliation claim, she has no direct evidence of retaliation.
Instead, she relies on the McDonnell Douglas framework. Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff
first must establish a prima facie case of retaliation.
St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at
506; Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-55; Holland, 487 F.3d at 218; Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242
F.3d 179, 190 (4th Cir. 2001). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show
that (1) she engaged in protected activity; (2) her employer took an action against her that a
reasonable employee would find materially adverse; and, (3) the employer took the materially
adverse employment action because of the protected activity.
ofTex. Sw. Med. Ctr.
v. Nassar, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 2524-33 (2013); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S.
53, 67-70 (2006); Holland, 487 F.3d at 218; Price, 380 F.3d at 212; Bryant v. Aiken Reg'l Med.
Ctrs. Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 543 (4th Cir. 2003); Spriggs, 242 F.3d at 190. An adverse employment
action includes "a discriminatory act that adversely a:ffect[s] the terms, conditions, or benefits of the
plaintiff's employment." Holland, 487 F.3d at 219 (alteration in original) (quotation omitted).
The NCDOC concedes that Miles-Stephens engaged in protected activity in 2006 when she
filed an EEOC charge concerning the NCDOC. The NCDOC also concedes that not being hired
as a clinical social worker in 2010 constitutes an adverse employment action. The dispute about
Miles-Stephens's prima facie case turns on whether there is a genuine issue of material fact about
whether the NCDOC took the materially adverse employment actions in 2010 because of MilesStephens's protected activity in 2006.
"[A] casual connection for purposes of demonstrating a prima facie case exists where the
employer takes adverse employment action against an employee shortly after learning of the
protected activity." Price, 380 F.3d at 213. Generally, unless the temporal proximity between an
employer's knowledge of protected activity and an adverse employment action is "very close," an
employee will not be able to prove the causal-nexus requirement. Clark Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden,
532 U.S. 268,273 (2001) (per curiam) (quotation omitted) (suggestingthatthree-to-four-monthgap
between protected activity and adverse employment action is insufficient for purposes of proving
causation element of prima facie case); King, 328 F.3d at 151 (two-month gap between protected
activity and adverse employment action sufficient to show causation element of prima facie case);
Tinsley. 155 F.3d at 443 (4th Cir. 1998) (fourteen years is "far too long" to satisfy causal-nexus
requirement of prima facie case); Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley. 145
F.3d 653, 657 (4th Cir. 1998) ("lengthy time lapse" between protected activity and adverse
employment action negates any inference of causation).
Nonetheless, even where temporal
proximity is lacking, a plaintiff may present evidence of other retaliatory conduct and animus
directed at plaintiff in the period between the protected activity and the retaliatory conduct at issue
in the case in order to meet the causal-nexus requirement of the prima facie case. See,~, Lettieri
v. Equant Inc., 478 F.3d 640, 650 (4th Cir. 2007).
Miles-Stephens has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the causal-nexus
requirement of the prima facie case. The time lapse is too great, and there is no other evidence of
retaliatory conduct directed at Miles-Stephens. Thus, Miles-Stephens has failed to establish a prima
facie case of retaliation, and her retaliation claim fails.
Alternatively, even if Miles-Stephens did establish a prima facie case of retaliation, the
NCDOC articulated a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not hiring Miles-Stephens for the
clinical social worker position. She was not the most qualified applicant. See [D.E. 30-4] ~~ 4--7
& Ex. A; see also [D.E. 30-3]; cf. Evans, 80 F.3d at 960. Thus, the court analyzes whether MilesStephens has raised a genuine issue of material fact concerning pretext.
In attempting to raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning pretext, Miles-Stephens
argues that Lynn Summers and Laura Yates knew about her 2006 EEOC charge, and that their
knowledge and continued presence at NCDOC raises a genuine issue of material fact about pretext.
See [D.E. 32] 10--11. However, knowledge of protected activity is necessary, but not sufficient to
Causeyv. Balog, 162 F.3d 795, 803 (4th Cir. 1998); Gibson v. Old Town
Trolley Tours of Wash.. D.C .. Inc., 160 F.3d 177, 181--82 (4th Cir. 1998); Dowe, 145 F.3d at 657.
Furthermore, Miles-Stephens has not presented any evidence that Yates was on either interview
panel or was responsible for the decision not to hire her as a clinical social worker. Indeed, the
admissible evidence shows the opposite. See [D.E. 30-4] ~~ 3--7 & Ex. A. Thus, Yates is irrelevant.
As for Summers, he denies knowing about the 2006 EEOC charge, and no admissible evidence
suggests that Summers knew about the 2006 EEOC charge. See id. Thus, the retaliation claim fails.
See Clark Cnty. Sch. Dist., 532 U.S. at 273; Gibson, 160 F.3d at 181-82; Tinsley. 155 F.3d at 444.
Alternatively, even if Summers did know about the 2006 EEOC charge, Miles-Stephens has failed
to raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning pretext. See [D.E. 30-3, 30-4]. No rational jury
could fmd that Miles-Stephens's 2006 EEOC charge was the "but for" cause ofthe NCDOC' s failure
to hire her as a clinical social worker in 2010. See,~' Nassar, 133 S. Ct. at 2524-33; Hoyle v.
Freightliner. LLC, 650 F.3d 321, 337 (4th Cir. 2011); Ziskie v. Minem, 547 F.3d 220,229 (4th Cir.
2008); Holland, 487 F.3d at218; Yashenko v. Harrah'sNC Casino Co., 446 F.3d 541,551 (4th Cir.
2006); Price, 380 F.3d at 215-17; Mereish, 359 F.3d at 336-39; Tinsley. 155 F.3d at 444; Carter v.
Ball, 33 F.3d 450, 460 (4th Cir. 1994). In sum, if the court has subject-matter jurisdiction over
Miles-Stephens's Title VII claims, the court grants summary judgment to the NCDOC on MilesStephens's Title VII claims.
As for Miles-Stephens's claims of race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981, she may not obtain relief from the NCDOC under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. A claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 "provides the exclusive federal damages remedy for the violation of the rights
guaranteed by§ 1981 when the claim is pressed against a state actor." Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch.
Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 735 (1989); accord Dennis v. Cnty. of Fairfax, 55 F.3d 151, 156 & n.l (4th Cir.
1995); Mason v. N.C. Dep'tofCorr., No. 5:12-CV-382-BO, 2014 WL 1411056 (E.D.N.C. Apr. 11,
2014) (unpublished); Courtneyv. N.C. Dep'tofTransp., No. 1:09CV680, 2010 WL4923344, at *5
4809039, at *2 (E.D.N.C. Nov. 18, 2010) (unpublished); Roberson v. City of Goldsboro, 564 F.
Supp. 2d 526, 528-29 (E.D.N.C. 2008). Thus, the court grants summary judgment to the NCDOC
on Miles-Stephens's section 1981 claims.
As for Miles-Stephens's race-discrimination and retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the NCDOC, the Eleventh Amendment bars her from pursuing these claims for damages
against the NCDOC.
Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990); Will v. Mich. Dep't of
State Police, 491 U.S. 58,71 (1989); S.C. State Bd. ofDentistryv. FTC, 455 F.3d436, 446-47 (4th
Cir. 2006); Brown v. N.C. Div. ofMotor Vehicles, 166 F.3d 698, 705 (4th Cir. 1999); Huang v. Bd.
ofGovemorsofUniv. ofN.C., 902F.2d 1134,1138 (4thCir.1990). Thus, thecourtgrantssummary
judgment to the NCDOC on Miles-Stephens's claims under42 U.S.C. § 1983.3
In sum, the court GRANTS defendant's motion for summary judgment [D.E. 29]. The clerk
shall close the case.
SO ORDERED. This~ day of July 2014.
Chief United States District Judge
The Eleventh Amendment does not bar Miles-Stephens from pursuing a Title VII claim for
that when Congress amended Title VII in 1972 pursuant to section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment
and permitted state governments to be liable for damages under Title VII, Congress properly
abrogated the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states). Nonetheless, as explained, this court
lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs Title VII claims. Alternatively, if the court has
jurisdiction over those Title VII claims, the claims fail on the merits.
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