Lawmakers make it harder for fired workers to sue

Posted March 24, 2016

— Although most of the attention over legislation the General Assembly passed and Gov. Pat McCrory signed within 12 hours Wednesday has been focused on who uses what bathroom and the lack of LGBT protections against discrimination, the new law also makes it harder for a worker to sue an employer for discriminatory firing.

Since 1977, North Carolina law has made it illegal for an employer to fire someone for reasons of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or disability. Anyone who believed they were fired for such a reason could sue his or her employer for discriminatory firing in state court.

A section of House Bill 2, dubbed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, rewrote state employment law, however, making it impossible to sue in state court for discriminatory firing.

"We thought this was really a bill about bathrooms and state and municipal government, but it turned out that it was much bigger," said Raleigh lawyer Chris Nichols, president of North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

"What that's done is it's put everyone – employers and employees – into federal court, which is not really the place you want to be," Nichols said.

Federal court is slower, more complex and more expensive, which could discourage some lawsuits, he said. It also offers a much shorter window for fired employees to file suit.

"Generally speaking, there's a reason we use the expression 'make it a federal case,'" Nichols said. "It means it's harder, more difficult and longer. The people of North Carolina need a fast method to resolve disputes."

Mississippi is the only other state with no employment discrimination protections.

Republican lawmakers who wrote House Bill 2 said they were trying to avoid creating new ways for workers to sue employers for discrimination.

Democrats noticed the potential problem during House and Senate debates on the bill, but proposed amendments to correct it were voted down.

Sponsor Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, said no fix was needed.

"We're not changing anything in that regard in this bill," Newton said.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, who sponsored the bill in the House, said he wasn't sure if it affected state law but said it wouldn't matter anyway.

"The remedies that are available under federal law are far more robust under federal law, as things stand anyway. So, there's no harm," Bishop said.

"If there’s confusion over a bill, it needs to be fixed," Nichols said, adidng that lawmakers could correct it with one sentence when they come back to session April 25.

"What we're worried about for the people of North Carolina is that there was just an honest mistake made," he said. "There was a big rush yesterday, and unfortunately, the bill has taken away the rights of employees – and in some regards employers – in our state."


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  • Raleigh Rose Mar 28, 2016
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    So, just out of curiosity, can you show how many lawsuits regarding a person getting fired, that they then sued based on race and lost have you witnessed? I'm curious to see just how many of these lawsuits there are and what they are costing companies in NC and how much they are costing tax payers. And saying you've seen people throw the race card when they've been fired doesn't really count as proof. Did all these supposed people you saw that said they were fired for their race go to court? Did they win or lose? How many would you say you have seen? I'm just want to see if you can back up your claim with actual proof and not just conjecture. Do all these supposed lawsuits cost enough money to pay for a special GA session to pass a law about it?

    The GOP is not the friend of the working man and woman. This bill does nothing but help big businesses. They have done NOTHING for regular working class people and they never will.

  • Lewis Smeltzer Mar 28, 2016
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    Wow, Us and Mississippi. That speaks volumes about what the current administration and legislature is doing to this once progressive & great state.

  • Shane Taylor Mar 28, 2016
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    Good on ya! Right on. I have seen people instantly throw the race card when they get fired...This will save companies and tax payers money moving forward!!! No more en-titlist people!!!

  • Fanny Chmelar Mar 27, 2016
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    If you think this law was about bathrooms, you were tricked! It was a power grab.

    Vote them out in November. They do not represent We the People, regardless of how you feel about the trans community. This law hits all of us!

  • James Daniels Mar 26, 2016
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    Why is anybody surprised? These clowns are wholly owned by NC businesses. Big business did not ask for this. So, do you want to vote for Newton for Attorney General now? Keep reading the bill. There's even more in it that's not good for the state.

  • Paul Maxwell Mar 25, 2016
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    Wow, this part must be the REAL emergency....gotta protect that 1% (and the wannabes)

  • Janet Ghumri Mar 24, 2016
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    So, the deep pockets behind the rush rush bill want to keep their money ( or maybe just share it with influential friends? ).

  • John Snow Mar 24, 2016
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    These guys need to go.