Business

NC discrimination law creates business backlash

Posted March 24, 2016 6:27 p.m. EDT

— The anti-discrimination law passed hurriedly in North Carolina on Wednesday quickly produced a backlash in the business community because it doesn't extend protections to gays and lesbians.

Companies began tweeting their opposition to the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act during legislative debate Wednesday afternoon, and the hashtag #WeAreNotThis quickly took hold on social media after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law late Wednesday night.

McCrory on Thursday defended the measure, focusing on a provision that overturns a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

"I feel very strongly that we, as governor I, need to protect the basic expectations of privacy that all individuals should be allowed to have, especially in the sanctity of a restroom," he said.

Businesses were more concerned that state lawmakers blocked any protections against discrimination in employment or public accommodations for the LGBT community.

"We believe no individual should be discriminated against because of gender identity or sexual orientation. Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted," said Katie Cody, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which has its second-largest hub at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Wells Fargo, Replacements Ltd., Apple, Microsoft and others all signed on to a statement in opposition to the North Carolina law and similar legislation in other states.

"Equality in the workplace is a business priority to foster talent and innovation, and these state laws undermine this core value," the statement said. "These state laws set a dangerous precedent that stifles investment and economic growth by jeopardizing a state’s status as a welcoming place for employees to live and thrive, undermining the success of a business at large. It is unreasonable for job creators to recruit a diverse workforce from states that encourage businesses to discriminate against our community of employees or consumers."

Supporters of the law responded by saying "big out-of-state corporations bullying North Carolinians" and noting hundreds of business owners statewide have signed a letter thanking lawmakers and McCrory for their actions.

Scott Harmon, who owns an architecture firm in downtown Durham and sits on the board of the Carolina Theatre, is one local businessman who is taking the side of the major corporations.

"This news is hitting across the country right now as an example of what not to do in terms of creating a fair and diverse environment for businesses to thrive," Harmon said.

Duke University, which is Durham's largest employer, also came out against the law.

"Duke University values every individual. We are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, which makes us a better and stronger community. For that reason, we deplore any effort to deny any person the protection of the law because of sexual orientation or gender identity," Duke administrators said in a statement, adding that bathrooms on campus wouldn't be affected by the new law.

Not every organization was quick to connect the law with a negative economic impact, however.

"We understand there are a wide range of opinions on this issue. However, we can't at this time speculate on what impact the legislation might have on Wake County’s tourism industry," the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau said in a statement.