Politics & Government

NC trial lawyers pan NC Chamber HB2 recommendation

Why haven’t Lew Ebert and the N.C. Chamber taken a stand on a bill with such business impact?
Why haven’t Lew Ebert and the N.C. Chamber taken a stand on a bill with such business impact? File photo

N.C. Advocates for Justice, a lobbying organization for trial lawyers, issued a statement on Friday panning the N.C. Chamber’s recommendation for tweaking House Bill 2.

HB2, as it’s commonly called, blocked a path to state court for people bringing state discrimination claims, forcing workers who contend they are fired from their jobs for discriminatory reason to bring their claims under federal law.

After more than a month of quiet about its stand on HB2, the leader of the N.C. Chamber announced earlier this week that he thought the law should be changed to reopen the path in state court for state discrimination claims, but to model the the new process on the federal procedures that employment lawyers say can be more expensive and more favorable to employers.

Dick Taylor, head of N.C. Advocates for Justice, said the Chamber proposal would “create a new bureaucratic maze for workers unlawfully terminated. Its proposal is complicated, costly, and confusing.”

“The proposal would essentially graft complications of federal litigation onto state claims and create a new and expensive bureaucracy within the N.C. Department of Labor,” Taylor said. “The Chamber seeks to create new barriers for employees terminated unlawfully and new protections for employers violating the law.”

For weeks since the adoption of HB2, there have been questions about why the law adopted in an emergency session of the General Assembly included provisions to prevent local governments from requiring contractors or subcontractors to pay more than minimum wage. It also altered how North Carolina workers who thought they had been discriminated against could pursue those claims in court.

CEO Lew Ebert issued a letter on Wednesday to the Chamber’s 35,000 members outlining revisions the group would like to see. Though the letter was silent on whether the bathroom provision should be changed, Ebert suggested aligning North Carolina’s laws on employment and public accommodations discrimination with federal law.

The Chamber suggested setting up a process through which North Carolinians pursuing state discrimination claims in state court to first file a complaint with the state Department of Labor, which would determine if someone has a right to sue. That claim would have to be filed within six months, where state law before the adoption of HB2 allowed people to file complaints directly in state court and they had three years to do so.

The Chamber also suggested allowing either party to pursue their case in business court, which does not have sessions in every county.

“When the General Assembly created the business court it did so, specifically, to deal with ‘cases involving complex and significant issues of corporate and commercial law’ – not to complicate disputes between employers and employees,” Taylor said in the NCAJ position statement.

He added that the trial lawyers’ association advocates for full repeal of that section of HB2.

“It was not a part of the controversy leading up to the special session,” Taylor said. “There have been no bills filed or calls for legislative action from either constituents or the business community to change the law. ...If changing our longstanding law is important, it can happen in the long session with the introduction of a bill and appropriate debate and process.”

Employment law advocates in North Carolina have made similar criticisms as HB2 stands now.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a North Carolina native, announces that the Dept. of Justice is filing a lawsuit against NC about HB2 after the state filed a lawsuit against Justice earlier in the day. She spoke personally to the citizens of