RALEIGH — Equality NC (ENC) is focusing on employment non-discrimination as its next initiative. Currently, LGBT employees in the state have very limited protections.

Employment in North Carolina is at-will, meaning an employer can hire and fire an employee at any time for any reason not protected by federal, state, or local laws. Most of these protections do not currently include sexual orientation and gender identity. At the federal level, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on race, religion, sex, or national origin. There has been limited success in using this to bar discrimination against transgender employees as a type of sex stereotyping, but it does not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some LGBT people have successfully filed claims based on sexual harassment.

People with HIV/AIDS are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on real or perceived disability as long as the individual can perform their job. Employees and job applicants do not have to disclose their HIV status unless it affects their ability to do their job.

The proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination — including hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation — on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would exempt small businesses (less than 15 employees), religious organizations, and the military, and it would not require businesses to offer equal benefits for same-sex partners.

In North Carolina, employees might have employment protections if they have an individual contract with their employer or a union contract. Individual employment contracts and union contracts usually prohibit discharge except for cause related to job performance.

Many large organizations (the vast majority of the Fortune 100, and many of the Fortune 500) have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

As a general rule, employees in the public sector, i.e., government jobs, have greater protection from discrimination than do employees of private institutions. For discharge from a government job, courts have generally held that the reason must relate to job performance.

No state or federal laws prohibit LGBT folks from holding government jobs (outside of the military — LGBT folks are prohibited from open military service by “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”).

Locally, only a handful of governmental bodies provide explicit protection for gay and lesbian public employees. Visit equalitync.org/issues/local to see the complete list.

In terms of licensing and professional accreditation, sexual orientation and gender identity are basically irrelevant. There are no current cases in the state where someone has been denied a license or accreditation due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

ENC is committed to the ideal that employment should be based on quality of work and not be subject to arbitrary prejudice and whim.

Visit equality.org to find out ways to help champion this cause, be it through contributions, assistance or volunteer efforts.

This article was published in the Jan. 9 – Jan. 22 print edition.

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.