A look at North Carolina's law on restrooms, discrimination

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Posted: Mar 31, 2016 5:34 PM
A look at North Carolina's law on restrooms, discrimination

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's new law limiting discrimination claims was approved in a special legislative session and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory later the same day to prevent a Charlotte City Council anti-discrimination ordinance from taking effect this Friday.

The measure goes well beyond stopping transgender people from using bathrooms matching their new gender identities, which McCrory called a "radical breach of trust and security." Here are more details about the law, which is now being challenged in federal court.

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PUBLIC ACCOMODATIONS

The law blocked a range of protections from taking effect in the state's largest city. Charlotte's ordinance would have covered gays and lesbians as well as bisexual and transgender people when they try to check into hotels, eat in restaurants or hail cabs; it also added marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city's list of protected characteristics in public accommodations and commercial businesses.

The law instead created a new statewide public accommodations policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex. But the law includes no specific LGBT protections, and says it does not create a right to sue in state courts alleging discrimination under the policy. Instead, any complaints could be investigated and mediated by the state Human Relations Commission.

It also forbids cities and counties throughout North Carolina from imposing any additional requirements on employers. A handful of local governments had made veterans a protected class, and this is no longer allowed.

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BATHROOM USE

Essentially, government agencies of all kinds must now direct men and boys to multi-stall restrooms and locker rooms designated for use by people born as male, and keep women and girls in those designated for the female biological sex.

This applies to public schools, state university and community college systems, state agencies and local government offices.

Single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities are still allowed "upon a request due to special circumstances" to a local school board or by a person to a public agency. The decision on accommodating the request appears to rest with the school board or the agency.

There are exceptions, such as when preschoolers enter a restroom with their mother or father, or when a person with a disability needs assistance. Transgender people who have obtained a new birth certificate after a sex-change operation can enter the multi-occupancy bathroom that matches their new gender.

But just how individuals should apply and enforce the new rules is unaddressed in the law.

For example, will all transgender people need birth certificates with them, to avoid trespassing complaints? What happens when a female-to-male transgender person who hasn't had a sex-change operation complies with the law, and people complain about someone with outwardly masculine characteristics sharing the women's room?

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WORKPLACE RULES

The law also reaffirms that local governments can't require area businesses to pay a minimum wage higher than North Carolina's statewide minimum, currently set at $7.25 per hour. Cities and counties also can't enforce ordinances setting their own minimum standards for businesses for paid sick leave or other employee benefits, and can't require government contractors to meet public accommodations standards above those set in state law.

Cities and counties can continue to set higher wage and benefit minimums for their own workers, or for company workers when required as part of an economic recruitment and incentives agreement.

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EMPLOYMENT BIAS LAWSUITS

One sentence in the legislation explicitly prohibits employees of private businesses from filing lawsuits in state courts alleging workplace discrimination. The law's authors said these civil actions were never provided for in North Carolina's nearly 40-year-old Equal Employment Practices Act, but noted that the Human Relations Commission can handle such cases. A more robust federal worker discrimination and litigation process is available, but critics say it's harder to sue in federal court, and the process takes longer to resolve.