NC governor wants part of rights law changed but most intact

AP News
|
Posted: Apr 12, 2016 8:18 PM
NC governor wants part of rights law changed but most intact

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that he wants to change part of a new law that prevents people from suing over employment discrimination in state court, and he officially extended LGBT employment protections to many state workers.

But McCrory's not interested in changing the rest of the law he signed three weeks ago that prevented local governments and the state from mandating similar protections in the private sector or at stores and restaurants. And the executive order he signed affirmed parts of the law directing people inside government buildings and schools to use the multistall bathrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

The Republican governor's announcement comes as fallout widens over the law he signed last month that would limit protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Only a few opponents called the order a step in the right direction. McCrory said some people who like the law may grumble, too.

"This will not satisfy all the critics who have a litmus test of purity on each side of this issue," McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview, adding "my job is to find a common sense solution to where we have conflicts between privacy and between equal rights."

The executive order expands the equal employment policy for state employees to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as affirming private businesses' rights to establish their own bathroom policies. He also said he will ask lawmakers to restore the right of all workers to sue in state court over employment discrimination on the basis of things like race, age and gender. That right was wiped out by the law.

He once again blamed a Charlotte ordinance approved in February that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in public accommodations for causing the Republican-controlled General Assembly to hold a special session March 23. That's when they overturned the ordinance and blocked all other cities and counties from passing broad rules targeting anti-LGBT discrimination.

There was no need for a state law "until the city of Charlotte brought it up," said McCrory, himself the previous mayor of North Carolina's largest city. "It wasn't a problem in my 14 years as mayor, and I've never heard it as an issue during my three years as governor."

But Charlotte city leaders had received stories from individuals in the transgender community about discrimination and bias they have encountered. Current Mayor Jennifer Roberts tweeted she was pleased to see movement from McCrory's office: "Historic to include LGBT protections for state employees. Look forward to more dialogue."

McCrory acknowledged outcry over the law, saying he'd listened to "feedback" from people in recent weeks.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, spoke privately with McCrory two weeks ago with two other gay-rights activists asking for the law's repeal. Sgro said the public employee workplace protections in the executive order are "a vital first step" but "we need to see the full legislative repeal of (the law) with the governor's leadership if he's serious about anti-discrimination measures."

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat challenging McCrory for governor this fall, said McCrory should have vetoed the law to begin with and the order doesn't change that last month's legislation "has written discrimination into the law."

As for the equal employment protection for state employees, McCrory said he already believes state government protects LGBT workers but "I thought it needed to be clarified to the citizens of North Carolina."

Equality NC, the American Civil Liberties Union and three LGBT citizens sued in federal court two weeks ago to overturn the entire law. State ACLU lawyer Chris Brook said restoring the right of employees to sue in state court, as McCrory wants, "would not make it easier for gay couples to go out to dinner and would not make it easier for them to check into hotels."

A full repeal appears highly unlikely from the General Assembly. In statements, Republican legislative leaders didn't address McCrory's request to restore the right to sue in state court for employment discrimination but praised him for reaffirming bathroom provisions in the law they say keeps women and children safe from men who may have used ordinances similar to Charlotte's as a pretense to enter women's restrooms.

The order affirms the importance of the General Assembly's action "to protect North Carolina citizens from extremists' efforts to undermine civility and normalcy in our everyday lives," House Speaker Tim Moore said.

McCrory's announcement came hours after Deutsche Bank said it will halt plans to add 250 jobs in North Carolina because of the law. The German bank with a large U.S. presence had previously planned to add the jobs through next year in Cary.

Co-Executive Officer John Cryan said in a news release that the bank may revisit the plans later. The bank employs 900 people at a Cary software development center.

Previously, PayPal reversed plans to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte, and more than 130 corporate CEOs signed a letter urging the law's repeal. Some states and cities have restricted public employee travel to North Carolina. Several groups have canceled planned conventions or gatherings in the state. Rock star Bruce Springsteen canceled a Greensboro show over the weekend because of the new law.