- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s new law blocking Charlotte’s public accommodations ordinance based on sexual orientation and gender identity also stops employees alleging workplace discrimination from going to state court.

A provision in the law approved Wednesday says workers claiming dismissal or demotion due to race, age, national origin, gender or disability can’t sue in state court to seek and obtain damages.

The 1977 state Equal Employment Practices Act still remains on the books and prohibits such discrimination, covering employers with at least 15 workers. It remains the job of the state Human Relations Commission to investigate such claims and mediate resolutions.

The primary spokesmen for the bill at the legislature downplayed the change. Workers could still file complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which evaluate whether an individual can sue in federal court.

“The remedies that are available under federal law are far more robust,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, a primary bill sponsor. “So, there’s no harm.”

Critics, however, said the federal process is lengthier than going through state court and allows only a six-month window to file a case, compared to three years at the state level.

“Generally speaking, there’s a reason we use the expression ‘make it a federal case,’” said Chris Nichols, president of North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the state’s trial lawyer lobbying group. “It means it’s harder, more difficult and longer. The people of North Carolina need a fast method to resolve disputes.”

Over the years, state and federal court rulings have permitted workplace-discrimination lawsuits because they involve a breach of public policy.

The North Carolina Justice Center, which advocates for the poor, said in a release that the General Assembly “has severely restricted victims of discrimination from meaningful redress.” The Human Relations Commission is also funded inadequately and can’t help workers unless employers cooperate, the center said.

The new law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory hours after the session ended, also directs public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

Opponents of Charlotte’s ordinance focused their disapproval upon the city’s decision to allow transgender people to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity. They said it conflicted with the public’s expectation of privacy in locker rooms and rest rooms. Legislators also said Charlotte acted beyond the powers bestowed upon local governments.

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