University of North Carolina Caught in the Middle of Federal/State Fight over Bathroom Bill!

Dear Commons Community,

The media is awash with the legal battle that is evolving in North Carolina over  the bathroom law also known as HB2 (House Bill 2)  that was enacted by the state legislature and Governor Pat McCrory. On Monday, the state and the federal government sued each other over the bill, which (among other things) requires anyone using bathrooms in public schools and agencies to use only those designated for the sex noted on their birth certificates—thus barring transgender employees and students from using the bathroom consistent with their gender identities. The federal government contends, and the weight of legal authority—including in the Fourth Circuit, North Carolina’s home—has found, that discrimination against employees or students on the basis of trans status is discrimination “because of sex” and is thus barred by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As the federal government and state elected leaders launched legal battles over the new law, the University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings said the university is “truly caught in the middle.” As reported by the The News & Observer:

“Spellings responded to the U.S. Department of Justice late Monday with a letter saying the university is committed to complying with federal non-discrimination laws. She asked for more dialogue with federal officials to resolve concerns over the law known as HB2.

“Our first responsibility as a University is to serve our students, faculty, and staff and provide a welcoming and safe place for all,” Spellings said in a written statement. “The University takes its obligation to comply with federal non-discrimination laws very seriously. We also must adhere to laws duly enacted by the State’s General Assembly and Governor, however. HB2 remains the law of the State, and the University has no independent power to change that legal reality.”

Spellings’ letter sought to walk a fine line – assuring federal officials that the UNC system intends to follow federal law, while not refusing to follow HB2.

The university had until Monday to respond to the federal government’s threat to withhold federal funding because of the law, which it says discriminates against transgender people. In 2014-15, the UNC system received $1.4 billion in federal funds.

The UNC Board of Governors has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday for a legal briefing from its chief counsel.

Monday was a dramatic day, with Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders filing lawsuits asking a federal judge to declare that HB2 is not discriminatory. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch answered with a federal suit against North Carolina to stop HB2. For now, the university’s federal funding is intact, and Lynch said she looks forward to learning of the UNC board’s next steps.

“We remain anxious to see what those discussions will bring and so we are deferring on requesting the curtailment of funding now, but we do retain that right,” Lynch said. “It would be premature right now to give a date on when we actually will take that step.”

Spellings said further discussions would continue despite the legal actions taken Monday by both sides.”

This is quite a legal mess which the state of North Carolina has very little chance of winning.


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