Firing Back, DOJ Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against NC for 'State-Sanctioned Discrimination'

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Firing Back, DOJ Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against NC for 'State-Sanctioned Discrimination'

Earlier in the day, the state's Republican governor files lawsuit against federal Department of Justice in defense of anti-LGBTQ bathroom law

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina on Monday. (Photo: AP)

Updated (4:14 PM ET):

In direct response to a lawsuit filed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory filed earlier in the day against the federal government, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch held a press conference Monday afternoon to announce the Justice Department is now filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state.

Calling North Carolina's controversial HB2 law nothing less than "state-sponsored discrimination" against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender individuals living in or visiting the state, Lynch said the Gov. Pat McCrory, the state university system, and public agencies have had every opportunity to address the federal violations contained in the law, but have refused to do so.

"Today we are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Patrick McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina," announced Lynch. 

"We are seeking a court order declaring HB2's 'restroom restriction' impermissibly discriminatory as well as a statewide bar on its enforcement," she said. "Now while the current lawsuit seeks declaratory relief, I want to note that we retain the option of curtailing federal funding to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina as this case proceeds. This action is about a great deal more than bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws we as citizens and a country haven't enacted to protect them. Indeed, to protect all of us."

The federal suit, she continued, "is about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably – in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.  This is not a time to act out of fear.  This is a time to summon our national virtues of inclusivity, diversity, compassion, and open-mindedness.  What we must not do – what we must never do – is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human.”

Watch:

According to a statement by the DOJ, the federal complaint

alleges that the defendants, as a result of compliance with and implementation of the bathroom and changing facility provisions of H.B. 2, are engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender public employees and applicants in violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex.  Access to restrooms is an important, basic condition of employment and denying transgender individuals access to restrooms and changing facilities consistent with their gender identity constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. 

The complaint also alleges that, as a result of these same provisions in H.B. 2, UNC and DPS are violating the non-discrimination provision of VAWA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.  Additionally, the complaint alleges that UNC is violating Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.  These laws apply to recipients of federal funding.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal — who are challenging HB 2 in federal court on behalf of six LGBT North Carolinians and members of the ACLU of North Carolina — applauded the DOJ for taking forceful legal action against a law they called "a targeted and unprecedented attack" on the LGBT community, particularly transgender people.

"The Justice Department has reaffirmed its letter to Gov. McCrory and what we put forth in our complaint when we filed our lawsuit in March," the rights groups said in a statement. "The federal government made clear that HB2’s mandate of discrimination against transgender people violates federal civil rights laws, but McCrory and other political leaders in the state have decided to risk federal funding to maintain that discrimination."

While McCrory has "doubled down on discrimination," the groups continued, "the Department of Justice is living up to its name in seeking to uphold the legal protections for transgender people in the state. But the battle is far from over. We will be fighting in court for our clients until they are treated equal not just in the restrooms but at their jobs and in the community."

With the governor and state lawmakers on the "wrong side of history," the groups concluded, "There are only two ways to reverse this terrible damage: The state should repeal this discriminatory law or the courts should strike it down."

During her remarks, Lynch spoke directly to North Carolina residents:

Lynch also asked to speak directly to the state's transgender community, saying, "Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together."

And in separate remarks at the news conference, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, explained how HB 2 "violates the laws that govern our nation and the values that define us as a people." And added, "Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men.  Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women. America protects the rights of all people to be who they are, to express their true selves and to live with dignity."

Earlier:

Obstinate in the face of accusations of hate and discrimination, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday filed a lawsuit against the federal government, signalling that the Republican-controlled state is standing by the anti-LGBTQ legislation known as "Hate Bill 2."

The suit (pdf), which is directed at the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), attorney general Loretta Lynch, and the agency's civil rights chief Vanita Gupta, seeks injunctive relief against what McCrory describes as "a baseless and blatant overreach."

The state had a Monday deadline to repeal the controversial law which requires transgender people to use public facilities—including in schools—that correspond with their biological sex, rather than gender identity, or risk losing federal education funding.

Last week, the DOJ ruled that the law, HB 2, violates Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Violence Against Women Act. Title IX bans discrimination at schools, universities, and any education program receiving federal funds. According to the Charlotte Observer, the N.C. State Board of Education receives billions of federal dollars each year.

"Lawsuits are normally filed to stop discrimination—not to continue it," declared a joint statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal, which are challenging the legislation on federal court on behalf of six LGBT North Carolinians. 

"While transgender people in North Carolina remain in the perilous position of being forced to avoid public restrooms or risk violation of state law, Governor McCrory has doubled down on discrimination against them," the statement read.

"The federal government made clear that HB 2’s mandate of discrimination against transgender people violates federal civil rights laws but McCrory and other political leaders in the state have decided to risk federal funding to maintain that discrimination," the groups continued. 

"Transgender people work for the state of North Carolina, attend school in North Carolina, and are a part of every community across the state," it concludes. "It is unconscionable that the government is placing a target on their backs to advance this discriminatory political agenda."

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