North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act: Anti-Discrimination Policy Protections for North Carolina Employees

The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (NCEEPA) prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, or handicap. 

The law is codified at N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.1 to 143-422.3. The NCEEPA applies to employers who regularly employ 15 or more employees. While the statute does not provide a private cause of action, it can be the basis for a common law claim of wrongful discharge in violation of state public policy. 

Covered Employers

The NCEEPA covers employers which “regularly employ 15 or more employees.” N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.2(a).

Policy Statement and Protected Classes

The NCEEPA provides that it is the public policy of North Carolina to “protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or abridgement on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap[.]” The statute therefore prohibits employment discrimination based on membership in these protected classes. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.2(a).

The NCEEPA further explains that “the practice of denying employment opportunity and discriminating in the terms of employment foments domestic strife and unrest, deprives the State of the fullest utilization of its capacities for advancement and development, and substantially and adversely affects the interests of employees, employers, and the public in general. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.2(b).

Definition and Scope of Discrimination

The NCEEPA does not define what constitutes the prohibited “discrimination or abridgement” on account of the above protected classes. However, it does make clear that the right to be free from discrimination or abridgement applies to both job applicants and current employees (“the right of and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment…”). N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.2(a).

Administrative Investigations

The NCEEPA provides that the state Human Relations Commission in the Civil Rights Division of the Office of Administrative Hearings has the authority to:

N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 143-422.3. The law further instructs the agency to use its resources to  “effect an amicable resolution of the charges of discrimination.” Id. There are strict time limits on filing charges of discrimination with the EEOC, which investigates violations of certain federal employment discrimination laws. Here is a helpful link to the EEOC website with more information on those time limits.

Enforcement

The NCEEPA does not provide employees with a private right of action. However, the statute’s policy statement can be the basis for a common law claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. See, e.g., Considine v. Compass Grp. USA, Inc., 145 N.C.App. 314, 317, 551 S.E.2d 179, 181 (2001). (“[North Carolina] Courts have recognized an exception to the employment at will doctrine by identifying a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Under the exception, the employee has the burden of pleading and proving that the employee’s dismissal occurred for a reason that violates public policy.” Id. (collecting cases). 

North Carolina courts have held that the limitations period for a claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy is three years. See, e.g., Winston v. Livingstone Coll., Inc., 210 N.C. App. 486, 488, 707 S.E.2d 768, 770 (2011) (“The limitations period for a tort action based upon wrongful discharge in violation of public policy is three years.” (citing N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 1-52(1) (2011)); Brackett v. SGL Carbon Corp., 158 N.C. App. 252, 260, 580 S.E.2d 757, 762 (2003) (“The statute of limitations for such a claim [wrongful discharge in violation of public policy] is three years.” (citing N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 1–52(5) (2003)).

This article was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.net.

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