Employment Discrimination in North Carolina

Employment discrimination against protected classes is illegal in North Carolina.

Federal and state law prohibit North Carolina employers from discriminating against employees based on certain characteristics, such as race or religion. (To learn more, see our page on employment discrimination and harassment.)

What Are the Protected Classes in North Carolina?

In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • disability
  • age (40 and older)
  • citizenship status, and
  • genetic information.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal workplace discrimination laws, is currently accepting discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the EEOC, these forms of discrimination qualify as illegal "sex" discrimination under Title VII. However, this view is being challenged in the courts, and the matter is far from settled.

In addition, North Carolina state law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex
  • disability: physical or mental
  • age
  • genetic information
  • AIDS/HIV
  • lawful use of lawful product when not at work
  • military status or service, and
  • sickle cell or hemoglobin C trait.

Several cities in the U.S. have their own laws protecting additional characteristics or extending protection to more employees. Contact your local government to learn more.

Which North Carolina Employers Are Subject to the Antidiscrimination Laws?

Federal antidiscrimination laws apply to North Carolina employers with 15 or more employees, with the following exceptions:

  • age discrimination (employers with 20 or more employees)
  • citizenship status discrimination (employers with four or more employees), and
  • equal pay for men and women (all employers).

In North Carolina, companies with 15 or more employees are also subject to the state's antidiscrimination law.

What government agency regulates workplace discrimination in North Carolina?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that regulates workplace discrimination. You can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by calling 800-669-4000 or check out its website at www.eeoc.gov. The website will help you locate an EEOC field office in North Carolina.

The Employment Discrimination Bureau of the Department of Labor enforces state antidiscrimination law in North Carolina. You can contact the Employment Discrimination Bureau at 919-807-2796 or 800-NC-LABOR or go to its website.

Filing a Charge of Discrimination

Employees who want to sue for discrimination under Title VII must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Employees have either 180 or 300 days from the violation to file a charge, depending on the claims involved. North Carolina does not have a state agency that accepts discrimination charges.

Once the employee files a charge, it may ask the EEOC to issue a right-to-sue letter: a document stating that the employee has met the obligation to file a charge with the agency. This allows the employee to go straight to court. Employees must file the lawsuit within 90 days after the letter is issued. And, the lawsuit must typically be filed within two years of the discriminatory act. Lawsuits based on state law must generally be filed within three years of the violation.

Damages Available In a Discrimination Case

Employees can seek monetary compensation (called "damages") from their employers for violations of antidiscrimination laws. While fired employees can also ask to be reinstated to their jobs, courts are often reluctant to do this. Once a lawsuit has been filed, the working relationship between the employer and employee is often beyond repair.

The exact amount and types of damages an employee can request depends on the type of claim. However, the following are common damages employees can receive:

  • back pay: wages and benefits the employee lost because of the discrimination (for example, if the employee was fired or demoted)
  • out-of-pocket expenses: money the employee had to pay because of the discrimination, such as the costs of therapy or looking for a new job
  • front pay: wages the employee will continue to lose in the future (for example, if the employee still hasn't been able to find a job)
  • emotional distress damages: money to compensate the employee for the mental pain and suffering caused by the illegal discrimination
  • punitive damages: a monetary award intended to punish the employer for especially egregious violations of the law, and
  • attorneys’ fees and court costs.

For violations of Title VII, there is a cap on how much employees can be awarded in damages for emotional distress, out-of-pocket expenses, and punitive damages. The combined cap for these damages is between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the employer. There is no such cap on damages for back pay, front pay, and attorneys' fees and costs.

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