OAG, CNMI govt seek dismissal of ex-prosecutor’s discrimination suit



The Office of the Attorney General and the CNMI government are asking the federal court to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit filed by former acting chief prosecutor Shelli Neal against them over her alleged demotion and subsequent termination from OAG in 2014.

OAG and the CNMI government, through assistant attorney general Christopher M. Timmons, asserted that Neal has sued a government body that cannot be sued and has failed to serve the Commonwealth with a summons or complaint.

In OAG’s and the CNMI government’s motion to dismiss filed on Thursday, Timmons said Neal has failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies and failed to bring her claims before the U.S. District Court for the NMI within the statutory time limits.

Timmons said Neal’s allegations do not rise to the level necessary to support her Title VII claims (employment discrimination).

Moreover, the AAG said, Neal has failed to plead prima facie claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), or the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA).

In her original complaint filed in December 2015, Neal alleged, among other things, that male prosecutors revealed confidential work product information to opposing lawyers regarding her cases in an effort to sabotage the cases and results.

Neal, who is an African-American lawyer, also disclosed that a then-chief prosecutor called her a “bitch” on multiple occasions and allowed white male employees to engage in discussions of a sexual nature in front of her and other female employees.

The incidents alleged in Neal’s complaint did not happen during Attorney General Edward Manibusan’s term.

In her original complaint, Neal is suing OAG for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, subjecting her to hostile work environment, retaliation, violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Neal amended her complaint to add the CNMI government as defendant.

The lawyer asked the court to hold OAG liable to pay her back pay with prejudgment interest in amounts to be determined at trial, and other relief necessary to eradicate the effects of the OAG’s alleged unlawful employment practices.

Neal also demanded payment for compensation, punitive damages, and compensatory damages. She asked that she be reinstated to her previous position as chief prosecutor with the OAG.

In March 2010, the OAG recruited Neal for a position in the criminal division. She was hired for a one-year contract, handling domestic violence cases. At the time, she had approximately 15 years of experience practicing law in Tennessee and Texas.

In defendants’ motion to dismiss, AAG Timmons said a federal court lacks personal jurisdiction over a defendant if service of process is insufficient.

Timmons said after the original complaint was filed and OAG was served with a summons and complaint, OAG brought a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because OAG is not a government agency with capacity to be sued.

Timmons said in response, Neal filed the first amended complaint, adding the CNMI as an additional defendant.

Timmons said because the Commonwealth has not been served a summons and the first amended complaint, there has been insufficient service of process upon the government, and this court has no jurisdiction over it.

Timmons said OAG is not a government corporation or agency that can be sued.

Timmons said the law of the CNMI is clear: “A suit against the Commonwealth is the exclusive remedy for persons seeking money damages by reason of actions of employees of public entities acting within the scope of their employment.”

Timmons said Title VII and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations required Neal to file a charge of retaliatory discharge within 180 days of the alleged termination.

Neal alleges that she was terminated effective July 1, 2014, and that she was first made aware of this fact on Aug. 14, 2014.

Timmons said Neal’s fist two EEOC claims pre-date the expiration of her contract and her last day of employment and therefore cannot form the basis for her discharge claim.

Timmons said the plaintiff has not alleged sufficiently severe or pervasive acts to create a discriminatorily hostile or abusive working environment.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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