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Netter v. Barnes

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 15, 2018

CATHERINE D. NETTER, an individual, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
SHERIFF BJ BARNES, in his official and individual capacity, Defendant-Appellee, and GUILFORD COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, a North Carolina public entity, Defendant.

          Argued: October 10, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, at Greensboro. Catherine C. Eagles, District Judge. (1:15-cv-00843-CCE-JEP)

         ARGUED:

          Wilson Frank Fong, HENSEL LAW, PLLC, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          James Marion Powell, WOMBLE BOND DICKINSON (US) LLP, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Craig Hensel, HENSEL LAW, PLLC, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Sonny S. Haynes, Ethan C. Goemann, WOMBLE BOND DICKINSON (US) LLP, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, MOTZ and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

          DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Catherine D. Netter brings this appeal, arguing that her unauthorized review and disclosure of confidential personnel files to support her racial and religious discrimination claims constituted protected activity under Title VII. Netter contends that the district court erred in rejecting her argument and granting summary judgment to her employer. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I.

         Netter, a Black and Muslim woman, worked for the Guilford County Sheriff's Office for approximately nineteen years, most recently as a detention services supervisor. For more than sixteen years, Netter compiled an unblemished disciplinary record. That changed in April 2014, when she received a disciplinary sanction that barred her from testing for a promotion. Netter filed timely complaints with Guilford County Human Resources and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She alleged that similarly situated officers, who were neither Black nor Muslim, had not been similarly disciplined.

         Following up on Netter's complaint, an investigator from the county Human Resources office asked her if she had evidence to support her discrimination claims. In response, Netter reviewed, copied, and supplied the investigator with the confidential personnel files (which she maintained in a file cabinet in her shared office) of two subordinate employees whom she supervised at Greensboro Jail Central. Netter also provided the investigator with the personnel files of three other employees who worked at the High Point Detention Center, which she obtained through a personal request to a co-worker. Netter ...


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