The N.C. Chamber, until now conspicuously silent on the law that has led to a federal lawsuit and boycotts from major companies, on Wednesday recommended legislators make changes to House Bill 2.
HB2, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in March, pre-empts some local anti-discrimination laws and requires people in government buildings to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
Rather than opposing the legislation, CEO Lew Ebert issued a letter to the Chamber’s 35,000 members outlining revisions the group would like to see. The letter was silent on whether the bathroom provision should be changed.
▪ The Chamber wants to align North Carolina’s laws on employment and public accommodations discrimination with federal law. The letter notes that federal statutes apply only to organizations receiving federal funds, those engaged in interstate commerce or that are a minimum size. This change would apply to all businesses and organizations in North Carolina involved in business or commerce.
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Federal law doesn’t specify that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the Civil Rights Act, but courts’ interpretation of the law has been evolving to include those classifications. Advocates have been trying to pass federal legislation that would explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, access to public places, lending and other issues.
▪ Another recommendation would restore the ability of people who claim they were discriminated against at work to file lawsuits in state court. HB2 removed that option, leaving more restrictive federal suits as the only alternative.
The Chamber wants to require a claim to be filed within six months with the state Department of Labor, which would determine if someone has a right to sue. Also, the Chamber recommends that either party in a lawsuit can send the case to state business court, where complex business disputes are heard.
▪ Finally, the letter states that businesses should be able to set their own policies, subject to state and federal law.
Ebert noted that the state’s largest business advocacy organization has diverse opinions among its members.
Wednesday’s letter is an attempt to “alleviate concerns from the business community on this issue,” he wrote.
Ebert concludes by saying, “North Carolina employers believe in treating all employees equally. The Chamber stands ready to be a part of real, thoughtful and meaningful dialogue that reflects the best of North Carolina values to address the concerns of all parties.”
State Rep. Chris Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat and LGBT advocate, said many of the Chamber’s own members have joined the call to repeal HB2.
“I’m disappointed in the Chamber,” Sgro said. “I don’t think the letter is representative of its membership. I hope it’s not coming from the legislative leadership.”
House Speaker Tim Moore’s office released a statement: “I appreciate the North Carolina Chamber’s input in regard to this emotional issue and applaud their thoughtful approach in light of the many quick-to-judge reactions that we have seen from individuals and groups who had not taken the time to fully understand House Bill 2. As we move forward in this short session my colleagues in the House and I will continue to work to ensure that North Carolina remains the preferred state to start and grow business as well as raise a family."
Senate leader Phil Berger’s spokeswoman said the president pro tem “appreciates the Chamber’s feedback and will be happy to review their recommendations and discuss them with the caucus.”
McCrory has called on the legislature to reinstate the state court option. McCrory has also said that anti-discrimination laws are traditionally a federal function, and that Congress should clarify what he has said are uncertainties about who is protected under federal law.