Justice Department Says North Carolina ‘Bathroom Law’ Violates Civil Rights

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A flurry of policies affecting transgender people swept the country in late 2015 and early 2016, leading to protests and a growing debate about equality. (Credit: Alberto Mier/CNN)

A flurry of policies affecting transgender people swept the country in late 2015 and early 2016, leading to protests and a growing debate about equality. (Credit: Alberto Mier/CNN)

The Justice Department has sent a letter to the North Carolina governor and state university system leaders notifying them that the state’s transgender law violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act, according to a Justice Department official.

House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, puts in place a statewide policy that bans individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex. The law also reserves the right to pass nondiscrimination legislation to the state government, saying state laws pre-empt any local ordinances.

The letter said, “Access to sex-segregated restrooms and other workplace facilities consistent with gender identity is a term, condition or privilege of employment. Denying such access to transgender individuals, whose gender identity is different from their gender assigned at birth, while affording it to similarly situated non-transgender employees, violates Title VII.”

CNN is seeking a response from Gov. Pat McGrory.

He signed the bill into law March 23 after the General Assembly went into special session earlier in the day to push through the legislation, a response to a nondiscrimination ordinance the city of Charlotte enacted that, among other things, made it possible for transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of the sex they identify as.

The move enraged civil liberties groups, Democrats and others in the state. A few days after passage of the bill, two transgender men, a lesbian, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and a violation of federal laws banning sex discrimination.

“It is now clearer than ever that this discriminatory law violates civil rights protections and jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal funds for North Carolina,” the ACLU and Lambda Legal said. “The only way to reverse the ongoing damage HB 2 is causing to North Carolina’s people, economy and reputation is a full repeal.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Family Research Council, which favors the bathroom law, launched a social media ad campaign that questions why federal agencies are investigating.

“It’s absurd that President Obama is directing the investigative power of five federal departments to investigate the repeal of a law that punishes businesses for having restrooms designated for men only and women only,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The Justice Department letters ask for a response by May 9 on “whether you will remedy these violations of Title VII.”