NC Court of Appeals on Workplace Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

In an unpublished decision last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued Crocker v. Griffin, a case that touched on emotional distress claims in the workplace setting. In the case, four plaintiffs brought suit against their employer because their boss, the director of the Transylvania County DSS, verbally abused and bullied them. The plaintiffs brought claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and negligent supervision and retention.

On the IIED claims, the Court reaffirmed the principle that: "As a general rule, ‘it is extremely rare to find conduct in the employment context that will rise to the level of outrageousness necessary to support a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress." The Court found that the verbal abuse alleged in this case was not so outrageous as to rise to the level of an IIED claim.

With regard to the NIED claim, the trial court had dismissed the claim because it was covered by workers' compensation, and thus had to be brought as a workers' compensation claim. Plaintiffs inexplicably failed to address this issue in their brief to the Court of Appeals, so the Court deemed the appeal waived on that issue. In doing so, though, the Court said: "We note that mental or psychological illness may be a compensable injury [under workers' compensation] if it has occurred as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the claimant’s employment."