In a case handled by Ford & Harrison attorneys Wade Ballard and David Tyner, an appeals court in North Carolina has held that an individual cannot file a complaint in state court under North Carolina’s disability law if that person has filed a charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In a case handled by Ford & Harrison attorneys Wade Ballard and David Tyner, an appeals court in North Carolina has held that an individual cannot file a complaint in state court under North Carolina’s disability law if that person has filed a charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). See Bowling v. Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital (Oct. 17, 2006). The decision in this case is the first time an appeals court has specifically addressed the issue of whether the filing of an administrative charge precludes the filing of a state court claim under the North Carolina Disabilities Act (NCDA).
In this case, Bowling was discharged because of job performance and subsequently filed an EEOC charge claiming his discharge violated the ADA. While that charge was pending, Bowling filed suit in North Carolina state court, claiming, among other things, that his discharge violated the NCDA. The trial court dismissed Bowling’s NCDA claim, and the appeals court upheld this decision based on the language of the NCDA.
The NCDA provides, in part:
No court shall have jurisdiction over an action filed under this Chapter where the plaintiff has commenced federal judicial or administrative proceedings . . . under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, . . . involving or arising out the facts and circumstances involved in the alleged discriminatory practice under this Chapter. If such proceedings are commenced after a civil action has been commenced under this Chapter, the State court's jurisdiction over the civil action shall end and the action shall be forthwith dismissed.
Bowling claimed that this provision did not preclude a state law claim when a plaintiff files an administrative charge with the EEOC but later decides not to sue in federal court, opting instead to bring a NCDA claim in state court. The court rejected this argument, finding that Bowling had “commenced” federal administrative proceedings within the terms of the NCDA by filing the EEOC charge. The court held that the clear meaning of the language of the NCDA requires a complaining individual to “either choose a single forum at the outset and proceed accordingly, or ensure that one claim or the other is completely concluded within the statute of limitations so that he may move forward with the other.” The court also noted that the short time in which a lawsuit can be brought under the NCDA suggests that the North Carolina legislature intended that a complaining party have a remedy either at the state or federal level, but not both.
Employers’ Bottom Line:
This decision should make it easier for employers to obtain dismissals of state court complaints under the NCDA by individuals who have filed EEOC charges. If you have any questions regarding this decision or the NCDA, please contact the Ford & Harrison attorney with whom you usually work or Mr. Ballard, 864-699-1127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Mr. Tyner, 864-699-1155, email@example.com.