As has been widely reported, the North Carolina legislature rushed last month to pass HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which requires transgender people (and everyone else) to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificate. It also bars local governments from passing ordinances like Charlotte’s.
The legislation doesn’t stop there, however. Tucked inside is language that strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, “… you no longer have a basic remedy.”
Conservative-leaning groups have trying for decades to reduce the number of civil lawsuits in the states. In HB2, lawmakers accomplished this by adding a single sentence to the state’s employment discrimination law that says: “[No] person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”
The language does not repeal North Carolina’s job-bias law, which continues to ban discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, or disability. But it forces workers seeking redress for discrimination into the federal system, where access is more difficult, the rules are much more complicated, and businesses often have significant advantages. Time, in particular, is on employers’ side: Under federal law, fired workers have just 180 days to file a claim, versus three years in state court. In the past, workers who missed the federal deadline — not uncommon for someone in emotional and economic crisis — could sue under state law instead, said Raleigh attorney Eric Doggett. Now, he predicted, many will discover they’re “hosed.”
HB2 “is more evidence that the forces behind this backlash have a larger agenda than simply attacking marriage rights for same-sex couples,” said Katherine Franke, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. “They also seek to unravel protections against race discrimination in public accommodations and other contexts.”
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