North Carolina governor makes minor changes to controversial LGBT law

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory issued an executive order to protect employees from the state's new 'bathroom bill.' But LGBT advocates say McCrory's changes are not enough.

Gerry Broome/AP
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory makes remarks during an interview at the Governor's mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 12, 2016. McCrory says he wants to change a new state law that prevents people from suing over discrimination in state court, but he's not challenging a measure regarding bathroom access for transgender people.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has filed an executive order that extends further protections to state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but leaves intact the bulk of a new state law regarding rights for lesbian, gay and transgender people.

Gov. McCrory said he wants state lawmakers to change part of the law that prevents people from suing over workplace discrimination, but he would need the legislature to make that change.

He said that after hearing feedback from the public, "I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality."

Chris Brook, an ACLU lawyer who's fighting the law in court, said even if provisions about suing in state court were changed, the state law still excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from classes protected from discrimination. And local governments are still precluded from passing anti-discrimination laws that go further.

Below is a look at significant provisions of the executive order, along with measures in state law that remain unchanged.

PROTECTIONS FOR STATE EMPLOYEES

McCrory added protection for gender identity and sexual orientation to an antidiscrimination policy covering state employees. He also affirmed the ability of private businesses and local governments to create nondiscrimination policies for their own employees.

Mr. Brook said that private businesses have always been able to create nondiscrimination policies that go beyond state law, and he noted that the state law passed in March already appeared to give local governments the ability to set policies for their own employees.

THE BATHROOM DEBATE

McCrory isn't asking the legislature to change the provision of the law regarding transgender people's access to bathrooms.

Essentially, the law requires government agencies to direct men and boys to multi-stall restrooms and locker rooms designated for use by people born as male, and keep women and girls in those designated for people born female.

This applies to public schools, state university and community college systems, state agencies and local government offices.

Single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities are still allowed "upon a request due to special circumstances" to a local school board or by a person to a public agency.

There are exceptions, such as when preschoolers enter a restroom with their mother or father, or when a person with a disability needs assistance. Transgender people who have obtained a new birth certificate after a sex-change operation can enter the multi-occupancy bathroom that matches their new gender.

McCrory's order said that private businesses can make their own rules for bathroom access "free from government interference," which is consistent with current law.

SUING IN STATE COURT

McCrory's order said that he will ask the General Assembly to restore people's ability to sue in state court over workplace discrimination.

The new state law prohibits employees of private businesses from filing such lawsuits in state court. The same law also bars people from suing in state court over discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels or restaurants.

It set up a new statewide public accommodations policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex. But the law includes no specific LGBT protections.

The state Human Relations Commission would investigate and mediate any discrimination complaints.

Brook said that even if the right to file a lawsuit in state court were restored, people still couldn't sue over sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination because those classes are omitted from state law.

LOCAL LAWS

McCrory also isn't asking legislators to change a part of the law that forbids cities and counties from imposing any additional requirements on employers. A handful of local governments had made veterans a protected class, and this is no longer allowed. Local laws regarding discrimination in public accommodation are also overruled.

Brook said that the executive order "in no way touches" what he sees as the most onerous provisions of the law for the general public: pre-empting local protections for LGBT people in employment and public accommodation, as well as Charlotte's efforts enhance transgender bathroom access rights.

The law also addresses local minimum wage ordinances, an area of the law not addressed by McCrory either.

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