Protesters rallied outside the Capitol against House Bill 2 in Raleigh, N.C., last month.
RAY WHITEHOUSE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and RICHARD FAUSSET
MAY 4, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Wednesday warned the state of North Carolina that it risked losing millions of dollars in federal funding because its controversial measure on bathroom access discriminated against transgender people.
The warning, which came in a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, escalated what has already become a contentious national debate over North Carolina’s new legal stance on transgender and gay people.
The state measure, House Bill 2, known as HB2, was signed into law in March and “is facially discriminatory against transgender employees” because it treats them differently from other employees, said the letter, which came from Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights lawyer for the Justice Department in Washington. The letter was first reported by The Charlotte Observer.
As a result, “we have concluded that in violation of Title VII, the state is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of Title VII right by employees of public agencies,” the letter said.
A Justice Department official said that federal officials hoped that the state would agree to comply voluntarily with federal civil rights law by abandoning compliance or implementation of the measure.
But the Justice Department has a number of tools it can use to try to force compliance, including the denial of federal funds, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The warning drew howls from some North Carolina officials who saw it as a hollow threat from Washington in trying to force the state to overturn the policy.
Tim Moore, the North Carolina Speaker of the House, called the letter an attempt to “circumvent the will of the electorate and instead unilaterally exert its extreme agenda on the people directly through executive orders, radical interpretations of well-settled common-sense laws and through the federal court system.”
But transgender rights supporters cheered the Justice Department’s move.
“I think it makes clear what we’ve known all along, which is that HB2 is deeply discriminatory and violates civil rights law in all kinds of manners,” said State Representative Chris Sgro of Greensboro.
Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, an L.G.B.T. rights group, said in a statement Wednesday that “actions have consequences, and Governor McCrory and his legislative allies are now paying the price for this anti-transgender law that they so hurriedly enacted.
“HB 2 is a solution in a search of a problem that simply doesn’t exist, and lawmakers must take immediate action to fully repeal it. The state’s economy and reputation have suffered enough, and now students all across the state stand to lose out on nearly $1 billion in critical funding because of HB 2. The livelihoods of North Carolina’s families are at stake, and there is no excuse for inaction.”
In December 2014, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. directed the Justice Department to begin including gender identity – including transgender status – as a basis for a discrimination claim under federal civil rights law.
That decision reversed a policy at the Justice Department that specifically excluded transgender people from federal protection. Mr. Holder called the decision “an important shift” meant to affirm the Justice Department’s commitment “to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”
Eric Lichtblau reported from Washington, and Richard Fausset from Atlanta.
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