Interference with contract is personal injury claim recognized in North Carolina in situations where one party, without justification, induces a third party not to perform contractual obligations to the plaintiff. This tort has been applied in some circumstances to interference with a contract of employment, even employment at-will. A new decision from the North Carolina Court of Appeals refuses to apply this concept to criticism of an employee’s work. The suit was filed by a former North Carolina Department of Transportation (“NCDOT”) employee who alleged that he was fired after a consulting engineer complained about the plaintiff’s job performance and alleged ethical violations by him. In addition to his interference claim, the plaintiff alleged civil conspiracy and unfair trade practices resulting from his termination.
The Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the claims on summary judgment. The court concluded that the plaintiff could not carry his burden of proving that the defendant actually induced NCDOT to fire the plaintiff. The defendants introduced substantial evidence of misconduct gathered by the agency that did not originate from its complaints about his job performance. For similar reasons, the court also dismissed the conspiracy and trade practice claims. Employees alleging tortuous interference with an employment contract must demonstrate a direct connection between the defendant’s acts and the resulting harm. Acts that may have contributed to the termination decision will not be enough to meet this burden.