Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers North Carolina employment discrimination. Federal laws apply to all employees in the United States. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The federal law applies to most employers with at least 15 employees ((20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The federal laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. Read below to learn more about North Carolina employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in North Carolina?
The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act and other state statutes make it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, HIV/AIDS results for current employees, or handicap (disability). The 1992 Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of traits for sickle cell or hemoglobin C, or other genetic information. None of these laws provide a specific remedy, so the only way to enforce them is through a lawsuit in court based on the “common law.”
The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act makes it illegal for a State or County government agency to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, HIV/AIDS results for current employees, or handicap (disability). The NC Equal Employment Practices Act is enforced through the Civil Rights Division of the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings and more information may be found at that website. Intake forms are available on the Civil Rights Division website.
The North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act, which is enforced by the North Carolina Department of Labor, makes it illegal for an employer to take specific retaliatory action against an employee on the basis of traits for sickle cell or hemoglobin or other genetic information, among other North Carolina laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Ac of North Carolina, Workers Compensation laws, etc. Complaints made to the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau of the N C Department of Labor are fully investigated. To file a Retaliatory Employment Discrimination complaint with the NC Department of Labor, or call 1-800-NC-LABOR (1-800-625-2267).
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in North Carolina?
Should you choose to pursue a lawsuit under a discrimination claim under North Carolina statutes is to file a lawsuit in court. The lawsuit is tried to a judge, not to a jury. You must file such a lawsuit within 180 days of the alleged retaliatory employment discrimination.
In order to file a claim, you will need to contact your closest local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC Filing a Charge page. The federal EEOC may work in conjunction with the State Civil Rights Division of OAH to enforce State and Federal anti-discrimination laws in North Carolina if the complainant is employed by a State of North Carolina or NC county government agency.
EEOC — Charlotte District Office
EEOC — Raleigh Area Office
EEOC — Greensboro Local Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim, you must file with the EEOC within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in North Carolina (including Durham, New Hanover County and Orange County) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in North Carolina?
If your case is successfully resolved by the EEOC, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the EEOC and you want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be heard in court without first going to the EEOC, as detailed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case, a process called "exhaustion." Exhaustion is not required for state claims, due to the lack of a state law with comprehensive remedies.
Many North Carolina attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under federal law. However, cases may be brought in either state or federal court. If a case is filed in state court under federal law, it may be subject to removal, which means that a defendant employer requests to move the case to federal court because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
Only once the EEOC issues the document known as "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" or "Notice of Right to Sue" (Form 161) can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be brought within 3 years as a wrongful termination in violation of public policy claim. Other claims under specific North Carolina statutes have to be filed in court within 180 days, as set out above. These deadlines are called the "statute of limitations." If you have received one of these EEOC notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.