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Court overturns award to former Goodyear worker

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—The North Carolina Court of Appeals has overturned a $450,000 award to a former worker at Goodyear's Fayetteville plant, ruling that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over her claims of harassment and wrongful termination.

LaShanda Shaw worked at Fayetteville as an area manager from 2007 until she was terminated in 2009. During that time, Ms. Shaw was verbally harassed by her male supervisor. The harassment was “obnoxious and rude,” but not of a sexual nature, wrote Appeals Court Judge Donna Stroud in her Jan. 15 decision.

In April 2011, a jury in the Cumberland County Superior Court awarded Ms. Shaw $450,000. The jury found that Ms. Shaw suffered severe emotional distress because of Goodyear's negligence, and that Goodyear retaliated against her for her complaints of discrimination.

But it also found that the Akron-based tire maker did not intentionally discriminate against Ms. Shaw, and that Goodyear would have fired her even if she had not complained.

“In summary, the jury did not award plaintiff any damages for her wrongful discharge claim, but only for her NIED (negligent infliction of emotional distress) claim,” Judge Stroud wrote.

Therefore, the only issue on appeal in the case was whether the trial court had jurisdiction over an NIED claim, the judge said.

The jury determined that Goodyear was guilty of “willful or wanton” negligence, and such claims are covered under the Workers' Compensation Act, Judge Stroud wrote.

Ms. Shaw should have pursued her claim in the North Carolina Industrial Commission instead of the state courts, she said.

Goodyear said it was pleased by the unanimous decision of the three-judge appeals court panel. The company had lawfully terminated Ms. Shaw for poor performance and the jury found as much, the company said.

“Goodyear actively promotes a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace at all of its facilities,” the company said.

Harold Kennedy III, Ms. Shaw's attorney, said he will file a petition for review of the appeals court decision with the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“We feel the case was wrongly decided,” he said.



To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211.
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