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How North Carolina's House Bill 2 Governs Bathrooms And Beyond


North Carolina's controversial law known as House Bill 2 is not a religious freedom law, although it's often painted with the same brush since it seems to target LGBT people. We wanted to take a closer look at what HB2 actually does regarding bathrooms and beyond, so we've called up Bob Joyce. He's professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Thanks for joining us.

BOB JOYCE: Pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: This bill is just a few pages long, but it's jam-packed with language relating to wages and contractors, let alone bathrooms and biological sex. What are the main things that this law does?

JOYCE: First, it makes clear that there is no state law protection against employment discrimination on account of gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. It does that by amending the state's Equal Employment Practices Act to replace the word sex with the term biological sex and defining that as meaning what is the sex assigned on your birth certificate.

SIEGEL: That's the first thing that the bill - OK, next.

JOYCE: The next thing the bill does is to take away the possibility of suing when you are discharged from employment and believe that the reason has to do with race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or handicap.

Previously an individual who believed that he had been fired from his job because of one of those outlawed reasons could bring what is known as the Wrongful Discharge Tort Action. House Bill 2 makes clear that that lawsuit is no longer available.

SIEGEL: You can't sue even if you claim you've been fired even because of race.

JOYCE: Correct.

SIEGEL: You could go to federal court. You just couldn't do it in a state court.

JOYCE: Right. It's no longer an action under state law. That's correct.

SIEGEL: The conflict between the state of North Carolina and the Justice Department at some level seems to come down to what sex means and whether that word should be interpreted broadly or simply biological sex at birth. Is that what they've done, basically?

JOYCE: Well, that's exactly what the conflict is. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an unlawful employment practice under federal law to discriminate in employment because of sex. And so the question then is what does the word sex mean?

In the last few years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that also includes gender identity and gender expression. This House Bill 2 clearly says North Carolina law is not that way.

SIEGEL: The impetus for this state law in North Carolina was the city of Charlotte's attempt to expand anti-discrimination definitions to include sexual orientation or gender identity. This law not only bars that. It also prohibits local governments generally from passing anything similar to that.

JOYCE: That's right. House Bill 2 says that it is advantageous for the state of North Carolina to have a uniform policy that the state law prohibits discrimination on various grounds - race, color and so on and biological sex - and that local cities, counties in the state no longer have the authority to enact ordinances that would expand the protections beyond what the state law provides.

SIEGEL: Does this alter the relationship between the state government and municipal and county governments in North Carolina?

JOYCE: Different states have different relationships between the state government and local governments. North Carolina has always been at one extreme, which is that the power rests with the state, and the state delegates whatever authority it wishes to units of local governments such as cities and counties. This is an expression that that is so.

SIEGEL: Well, I mean, has the city of Charlotte's wings been severely clipped here, or have they always had their wings clipped?

JOYCE: Well, they thought that they did not have their wings clipped when they passed the ordinance that led to House Bill 2. There hadn't been any legal actions saying whether they had the authority to do that or not. They assumed they did. They clearly now to not.

SIEGEL: Professor Joyce, thanks for talking with us.

JOYCE: Pleasure to talk with you.

SIEGEL: Bob Joyce is a lawyer and also a professor at UNC's School of Government. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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