A civil rights employment lawsuit against Mountaire Farms, Inc. regarding its chicken processing plant was removed by the defendant to the Eastern District of North Carolina on Thursday. The complaint, which was filed in December in the Superior Court of Wake County, North Carolina, purported that the plaintiff was discriminated against and asked to work in unsafe conditions with dry ice at the defendant’s Lumber Bridge, North Carolina Facility.
Allegations in the complaint included that the defendants violated North Carolina statutes and the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act. The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages, including unpaid wages, and other fees.
The plaintiff claimed that he worked at the processing facility from August 2018 to April 2019 and never received a written performance warning. The plaintiff, who was 53 when he was hired, reported that his supervisor “regularly made comments to him about his age,” including that he was slow.
Beginning in January 2019, the plaintiff was assigned to pack chicken in dry ice, which reportedly led to “a range of symptoms from the constant exposure to the dry ice vapors,” including a runny nose, dry mouth, and headaches. He discussed the alleged unsafe working conditions with his supervisor, who responded that other workers had not complained. Although the plaintiff purchased a mask after his supervisor would not provide safety equipment, he was told not to wear the mask at work.
After several weeks of feeling the effects of working around dry ice, the plaintiff contacted North Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSH) and went to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with dehydration and sciatic nerve pain. After he reported this to a separate supervisor, he was told he “had accumulated 13 ‘occurrences’ or events that could lead to discipline,” and that he could be fired after eight, but that his occurrences would be reduced to seven if he did not complain. The plaintiff said he understood this to be a threat and that afterward he received more threats of write-ups.
In March, after asking a supervisor to come with him to speak to his supervisor about the purported harassment, he was suspended from work for three days. When he came back to work he was assigned to a position with heavy lifting. A month later, after supplying to his managers a doctor’s note and asking to be put on light duty, he was fired.
The complaint purported that the plaintiff was fired because of “complaints to Defendant about unsafe working conditions and because he filed a complaint with OSH about those working conditions.” Reportedly, OSH performed multiple investigations and found that the oxygen levels were too low and issued a fine and citation to Mountaire for its dry ice handling.
Mountaire answered the complaint on Thursday as well, the defendant explained that it is a Delaware corporation and so the matter should be heard before the District Court. The answer argued that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief, has not been damaged, and that any actions against him “were taken for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.”
Mountaire Farms is represented by Wimberly, Lawson, Daniels & Fisher. The plaintiff is represented by the North Carolina Justice Center.