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Francis v. National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences, Inc.

Supreme Court of Virginia

February 23, 2017

NOEMIE S. FRANCIS
v.
NATIONAL ACCREDITING COMMISSION OF CAREER ARTS & SCIENCES, INC.

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA Nolan B. Dawkins, Judge

          OPINION

          S. BERNARD GOODWYN, JUSTICE

         In this appeal, we consider whether the Circuit Court of the City of Alexandria erred in sustaining a demurrer to an amended complaint alleging a claim for wrongful termination under this Court's decision in Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville, 229 Va. 534, 331 S.E.2d 797 (1985). For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the circuit court did not err in sustaining the demurrer. Thus the judgment dismissing this action with prejudice is affirmed.

         Background

         Because this is an appeal from the circuit court's decision to sustain a demurrer to the amended complaint filed by the appellant, Noemie S. Francis (Francis), the facts are recounted as alleged in that pleading. Harris v. Kreutzer, 271 Va. 188, 195-96, 624 S.E.2d 24, 28 (2006).

         On March 27, 2014, the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences, Inc. (NACCAS) hired Francis as a full-time administrative assistant on an at-will basis. On January 23, 2015, while Francis was at work, Peri Blow (Blow), another NACCAS employee, yelled obscenities at Francis, called her derogatory names, and threatened Francis, saying "I am going to fuck you up, and hurt you." Approximately "a dozen" NACCAS employees witnessed this event. Two NACCAS employees, including Shanna Love (Love), tried to pull Blow away from Francis, but Blow "continued to come back to [Francis] with additional threats and vituperations."

         Later that day, NACCAS's Executive Director, Anthony Mirando (Mirando), and its Human Resources Director, Alicia Williams (Williams), met with Francis, Blow, and Love to instruct them to observe "NACCAS star core values" and improve their behavior in the future, but NACCAS did not investigate the incident. On January 28, 2015, Williams sent a summary of the meeting to Francis. The summary did not address Blow's actions, "any disciplinary measures against Blow, " or any measures to protect Francis. Francis emailed her supervisor and Williams to express "concern" that the summary failed to address her safety and that she was not "comfortable working closely with someone" who threatened "her physical wellbeing."

         On January 30, Francis filed an ex parte petition for a preliminary protective order (PPO) against Blow in the General District Court of Prince William County. The court granted the PPO on the same date, ordering Blow not to commit any further "acts of violence, force, or threat" against Francis, and prohibiting all contact except "lawful conduct" with Francis.

         On Thursday, February 5, 2015, a police officer served the PPO on Blow at the NACCAS office, in Williams' presence. The following Monday, February 9, Williams informed Francis that she was terminated effective immediately because Francis "did not fit the vision of the organization."

         On June 11, 2015, Francis filed suit against NACCAS in the Circuit Court of the City of Alexandria alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under Bowman. The court sustained NACCAS's demurrer which alleged "there are no sufficient allegations of a true public policy violation."

         Francis filed an amended complaint on August 25, 2016. The amended complaint set forth the alleged facts recounted above, and asserted a claim for wrongful termination under Bowman, based upon the allegations that NACCAS wrongfully discharged her in violation of the public policy embodied in Code §§ 19.2-152.7:1 through 19.2-152.10 (the Protective Order Statutes). She asserted that the public policy of the Protective Order Statutes "grants individuals the right to seek a civil protective order 'to protect the health and safety of the petitioner.'" Francis alleged that her "exercise of her statutory rights in obtaining a civil protective order . . . was at minimum a motivating factor for her employment termination."

         On September 9, 2015, NACCAS filed an amended demurrer, arguing that the amended complaint "fails to state any valid claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, as [Francis] was an at-will employee and she does not identify any statutorily protected right that NACCAS violated by her termination."

         On December 9, 2015, the court sustained the amended demurrer ...


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