A look at N.C.’s law on restrooms, discrimination

Demonstrators rally outside the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, a day after North Carolina passed a law forbidding cities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

RALEIGH, N.C. — 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 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.

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 has no specific LGBT protections.

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

Government agencies of all kinds must now direct men and boys to multistall 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.

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.

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.

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.