Like many states, North Carolina recognizes a limited exception to the usual employment at-will rule. Terminated employees may file a wrongful discharge claim if they are fired for reasons that violate the state's public policy. In practice, these violations are difficult to prove, and the grounds for public policy discharge are limited. Last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a complaint that failed to make specific public policy allegations.
In Horne v. Cumberland Co. Hosp. System, the plaintiff was a CT technician who was fired after a series of performance warnings and write-ups. She sued for wrongful discharge, but her complaint only made reference to general labor and corporate laws. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim from which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, noting that oblique references to statutes will not allow a claim to proceed when the exact public policy violated is not specified.
Wrongful discharge claims are often the last resort for disgruntled employees who are terminated for reasons falling under the employment at-will doctrine. Employers faced with such claims should consider early dispositive motions that can end the lawsuit before expensive discovery and other litigation steps begin.