Civil Rights

DOJ and North Carolina trade lawsuits over transgender bathroom law

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Transgender bathroom sign

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Updated: North Carolina filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the U.S. Justice Department of “baseless and blatant overreach” for its warning that the state’s transgender bathroom law violates the federal Civil Rights Act.

Hours later, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit (PDF) asserting that North Carolina’s entities were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act as a result of its compliance with and implementation of House Bill 2, CNN, the Hill and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reported. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, the University of North Carolina and the board of governors of the University of North Carolina are also named in the Justice Department lawsuit.

North Carolina’s suit (PDF) seeks an injunction and a declaratory judgment that the new law is not discriminatory, the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times and Reuters report.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent North Carolina from implementing House Bill 2 and a declaratory judgment that it violates the aforementioned federal laws.

The law requires schools and other government-controlled facilities to restrict multiple-occupancy bathrooms to people of the same biological sex. The law also bars local governments from passing ordinances granting bias protections that extend further than state law.

The North Carolina suit says the Justice Department warning “is an attempt to unilaterally rewrite long-established federal civil rights laws.”

“The overwhelming weight of legal authority recognizes that transgender status is not a protected class under Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act, the suit says. “If the United States desires a new protected class under Title VII, it must seek such action by the United States Congress.”

The suit also says the Justice Department overreached in its warning that the North Carolina law violates nondiscrimination provisions of the federal Violence Against Women Act.

The lawsuit maintains that the state has a right to balance “the special circumstances posed by transgender employees with the right to bodily privacy held by non-transgender employees in the workplace.”

The Justice Department had also alleged the North Carolina law violated Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education. But the North Carolina lawsuit is silent about Title IX, likely because of a recent decision by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Think Progress reports. The decision allowed a transgender teen to sue over a school’s restroom restriction.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a press release that Justice Department lawsuit is about more than just bathrooms. “This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens, and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them—indeed, to protect all of us. It’s about the founding ideals that have led this country—haltingly but inexorably—in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.”

Last updated at 5 p.m. to add additional detail about the Justice Department’s case.

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