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Equal Protection

The ACLU fights to ensure equal protection of the laws for everyone. This means that laws must apply equally to all without prejudice or discrimination. “Equal protection” cases therefore cover a huge spectrum of issues, from the rights of women, the LGBT community, and immigrants, to the rights of people of color, students and people with disabilities.

RALEIGH – A new online video campaign portrays real North Carolinians in everyday situations – “mundane moments” – that could be threatened by state laws that enable discrimination.

The “Mundane Moment” campaign launched this week with videos portraying lesbian parents, a Muslim couple, and a transgender woman – all real North Carolinians – in various family situations. The videos aim to highlight a North Carolina law that allows government officials to deny marriage services to couples if they cite a religious objection, as well as the absence of any North Carolina laws protecting transgender people from various forms of discrimination. 

The three videos and more information about these issues are available at MundaneMoment.org.

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By Susanna Birdsong, ACLU-NC Policy Counsel

North Carolina’s largest city affirmed a basic principle on Monday night: All people deserve to be treated fairly and protected by the law.

In a much-publicized vote, the Charlotte City Council expanded the city’s nondiscrimination law to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in public accommodations. The vote means that businesses open to the public, public restrooms, taxi services, hotels and other public lodging, must be equally accessible to LGBT individuals, and cannot discriminate against people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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CHARLOTTE – Tonight the Charlotte City Council voted to expand the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. Among other things, the ordinance means that businesses open to the public – including public restrooms, taxi services, hotels and other public lodging – must provide equal treatment and access to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

“With this vote, North Carolina’s largest city has affirmed that all people deserve to be treated fairly and protected by the law,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “When a business decides to open its doors to the public, it should be open to everyone on the same terms. We applaud Charlotte’s council members for making their city more safe, welcoming, and inclusive, and we urge municipal leaders across the state to follow their example. Charlotte has full authority to enact this ordinance, and we hope the General Assembly will respect this local government’s decision to protect its residents and visitors from discrimination.”

ASHEVILLE, N.C – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina have reached settlement in a case filed on behalf of a certified nursing assistant who was pushed out of her job at a nursing home facility in Weaverville, North Carolina while pregnant with her third child.

The settlement with Sava Senior Care’s Brian Center comes in a complaint brought with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October 2014 on behalf of Jaimie Cole. During her third trimester of pregnancy, Cole developed a high risk condition and provided her employer a doctor’s note recommending that she not lift more than 35 pounds. Because her job entailed helping patients in and out of bed and assisting them with bathing, Cole requested a temporary light duty assignment to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

Instead of treating her request the same as other workers temporarily unable to perform normal job duties, Cole was told by her supervisor that pregnant women “aren’t eligible for light duty,” and was forced to take five weeks of unpaid leave. Settlement in her case includes payment for lost wages and emotional distress, and Sava’s implementation of a new policy to make sure that pregnant workers get light duty and other accommodations on the same terms as other employees needing temporary job changes.

“No expecting mother should be forced to go without a paycheck when her family desperately depends on those funds to cover the costs of welcoming a new child,” Cole said. “I am pleased with the compensation in this settlement, but even more relieved that future Brian Center employees who become pregnant won’t have to drain their savings and checking accounts the way I did when placed on unpaid leave. The new policy is what fairness looks like.”

Cole’s case is one of several that have been settled since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last spring in Young v. UPS that employer policies denying women accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions, while providing the same accommodations to other workers with similar limitations, can violate sex discrimination laws. In August 2015, the ACLU settled a similar pregnancy discrimination case against Sava Senior Care, which allowed individual care facilities to adopt their own policies with regards to accommodating pregnant workers.

“Too many women have been forced to choose between their paycheck and a healthy pregnancy,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “In order to achieve an even playing field for working women, workplace policies must ensure women aren’t forced off the job when they become pregnant. This settlement represents an important step closer to that goal.”

RALEIGH. – The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would prohibit local governments from enacting measures to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender North Carolinians from discrimination in housing and public accommodations. SB 279 has many other troubling provisions, including one that would jeopardize comprehensive sex education in public schools and could lead to the return of abstinence-only education. The provisions to remove power from local governments weren’t made public until Monday night and could overturn many existing nondiscrimination ordinances across the state.  

“The General Assembly has no business interfering in local decisions to protect residents from discrimination,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “Many communities in North Carolina have passed these ordinances with popular local support in order to compete for the best jobs and show that they are inclusive and welcoming places. This shameful bill would remove that local control and hurt our state’s reputation by sending a message that North Carolina sanctions intolerance and discrimination.” 

On September 21, the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted to add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to those protected by the county’s employment nondiscrimination policies. Other state municipalities that have adopted LGBT nondiscrimination policies include Buncombe, Durham, and Mecklenburg counties, and the cities of Asheville, Boone, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Charlotte, High Point and Raleigh.

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