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.)
In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:
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:
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.
Federal antidiscrimination laws apply to North Carolina employers with 15 or more employees, with the following exceptions:
In North Carolina, companies with 15 or more employees are also subject to the state's antidiscrimination law.
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.
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.
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:
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.