Bathroom Bias Battle Heats Up as North Carolina Sues DOJ

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 09, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

North Carolina has faced a significant backlash since it adopted House Bill 2, a law meant to force transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their birth gender, rather than the gender they identify with. PayPal cancelled plans to expand to Charlotte, Lionsgate and A+E have refused to film in the state, and last week, the Department of Justice warned that the law violated the civil rights of transgender people, which could cost North Carolina millions in federal funds.

Now, the North Carolina is back on the offensive. Governor Pat McCrory filed suit against the DOJ this morning, calling the DOJ's warning a "radical reinterpretation" of the law and asking for court's to declare it legally sound.

McCrory v. U.S.

The Department of Justice wrote Gov. McCrory last Wednesday about HB2, warning him that "both you and the State of North Carolina" had violated the Civil Rights Act and Violence Against Women Act. According to Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights attorney for the DOJ, HB2's bathroom restrictions were "facially discriminatory against transgender employees."

The Justice Department had "concluded that in violation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act], the state is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of Title VII right be employees of public agencies," Gupta wrote. That finding could halt millions of federal funds designated for North Carolina, even as other federal agencies were looking into withdrawing funding as a result of HB2.

The letter gave North Carolina until today to remedy the violations. Instead, McCrory responded with a lawsuit.

In his suit, McCrory calls the DOJ's position "a baseless and blatant overreach." It is "an attempt to unilaterally rewrite long-established federal civil rights laws in a manner that is inconsistent with the intent of Congress and disregards decades of statutory interpretation by the courts," the suit alleges. McCrory is seeking a declaratory ruling that HB2 does not violate Title VII or VAWA.

The Business Backlash

The suit means that the HB2 controversy won't be ending anytime in the immediate future. That could be bad news for many companies who do business in North Carolina. In addition to the companies who've already pledged to pull out of the Tar Heel State, more than major 100 companies have demanded that the state repeal HB2. The list includes tech companies like Apple and Facebook and financial institutions like Wells Fargo and Citibank.

The business backlash is partly a principled stand. But it's also an acknowledgement of the increasingly liberal worldview of highly-skilled, often young professionals, who broadly support increased LGBT rights -- and who want their potential employers to reflect that view.

Many companies responded similarly to Georgia's "religious liberty" bill that would permit anti-LGBT discrimination. Time Warner, Delta airlines, and even Coca-Cola condemned the bill; the NFL even threatened to bar the state from hosting the Super Bowl. There, business pressure won, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vowed to veto anti-LGBT legislation.

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