NC Court of Appeals Cases on REDA and Appellate Procedure

Two opinions of note were issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals yesterday. The first, Beard v. Cumberland County Hospital System, concerns North Carolina's Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA). REDA prohibits discrimination or retaliation against an employee for, among other things, filing a workers’ compensation claim. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-241(a)(1). The discrimination or retaliation can be a "discharge, suspension, demotion, retaliatory relocation of an employee, or other adverse employment action taken against an employee in the terms, conditions, privileges, and benefits of employment.” § 95-240(2).

In this case, the plaintiff had been injured at work, filed a workers' compensation claim, and was receiving benefits. Disputes arose regarding her benefits and her ability to work, which led to the REDA claim. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant retaliated against her by (1) refusing to allow her to be treated by her preferred neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Roy, and (2) refusing to allow her to return to work in a light duty position when she could not physically perform her original position.

The Court held that neither action could constitute "retaliation" under REDA. The first was purely a dispute about workers' compensation benefits, was not connected to terms of employment, and thus had to be handled as a workers' compensation issue in the Industrial Commission. The second was not retaliation because, unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act, REDA does not impose an obligation on employers to accommodate an employee's physical limitations. If an employee cannot physically perform her job, REDA does not bar their separation.

Lee v. Wignat Road, LLC is a cautionary case. The Court dismissed the appeal because the plaintiff-appellants failed to serve the notice of appeal on all the parties, specifically the non-appealling plaintiffs and some of the defendants. The Court found the error deserved dismissal because it impaired the Court's ability to hear from all parties, and because the appeal seemed to lack merit in any event.