North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday he wants to change a new state law that prevents people from suing over discrimination in state court, but he's not challenging a measure regarding bathroom access for transgender people.
His announcement comes as fallout widens over the law he signed last month that would limit protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people. Critics of the law called his statement a step in the right direction, but not enough.
While McCrory's executive order extends further protections to state employees, it leaves intact provisions of the state law that limit protections for the LGBT community in the general public.
McCrory said he's using an executive order to expand the equal employment policy for state employees to include sexual orientation and gender, as well as affirming private businesses' rights to establish their own bathroom policies.
He also says he will ask lawmakers for legislation allowing people to sue in state court over discrimination. That right was wiped out by the law.
But he said his order will maintain gender-specific restroom and locker room access in government buildings and schools. He once again condemned a Charlotte ordinance passed earlier this year that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, calling it "a solution in search of a problem."
The state law was passed partly in response to the Charlotte measure.
But it went further than repealing the Charlotte law, overruling LGBT antidiscrimination measures passed by local governments statewide. It also excluded sexual orientation and gender identity from the state's antidiscrimination policy. The law also required transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.
McCrory acknowledged outcry over the law, saying he'd listened to "feedback" from people for several weeks.
He said that "based upon this feedback, I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality."
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said McCrory's order is a step in the right direction but still "doubles down" on some of the most problematic parts of the law.
"If the governor is truly committed to non-discrimination and wants to undo the harms done by House Bill 2, this is just the beginning of the conversation," Sgro said in a written statement.
The head of the state ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the law, said the governor had made "a poor effort to save face."
"With this executive order, LGBT individuals still lack legal protections from discrimination, and transgender people are still explicitly targeted by being forced to use the wrong restroom," said Sarah Preston, the group's acting executive director for the state.
In an interview with The Associated Press, McCrory said he saw no need to change the law he signed March 23 beyond repealing the state court discrimination provision.
He said his actions Tuesday "will not satisfy all the critics who have a litmus test of purity on each side of this issue ... my job is to find a commonsense solution to where we have conflicts between privacy and between equal rights."
As for the equal employment protection for state employees, McCrory said he already believes state government protects LGBT workers but "I thought it needed to be clarified to the citizens of North Carolina."
Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat challenging McCrory this fall, is opposed to the law and announced last week he won't defend it in court. Cooper said in a statement the order "is a day late and a veto short" and doesn't change that last month's legislation "has written discrimination into the law."
McCrory's announcement came hours after Deutsche Bank said it will halt plans to add 250 jobs in North Carolina because of the law. The German bank with a large U.S. presence had previously planned to add the jobs through next year in Cary.
John H. Boyd, of location consulting firm The Boyd Company Inc., said in an email the bank's announcement likely pushed McCrory to take some action.
"The governor correctly sensed he was 'on the clock' and needed to address the national backlash after HB2. The Deutsche Bank announcing today it is canceling plans to add 250 jobs in Cary being the latest shoe to drop," Body said. "That is the type of Cadillac project for Cary and the state that the the governor could not ignore for another minute."
McCrory said he will push for legislation during the upcoming short session that reinstates individuals' rights to sue for discrimination in state court.
The prohibition on filing discrimination lawsuits in state court has drawn stiff criticism for eliminating a less-costly and quicker legal discrimination process than federal court.
"Now I know these actions will not totally satisfy everyone, but the vast majority of our citizens want common-sense solutions to complex issues," McCrory said. "This is the North Carolina way."
Berger said in a statement that McCrory's executive order "just put to rest the left's lies about HB2 and proved it allows private and public employers, non-profits and churches the ability to adopt nondiscrimination policies that are stronger than state and federal law."
John Dinan, a political sciences professor at Wake Forest University, said the executive order appears to have three intended goals.
"The main part of this executive order that has the force of law — other parts mostly explain HB2 or in one respect urge the legislature to modify HB2 — is the portion that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state government hiring," Dinan said.
"It allows him to take various actions that are within his executive power, such as setting non-discrimination policy for state government hiring and contracting, and including sexual orientation and gender identity in this policy.
"And third, it gives him an opportunity to call on the legislature to modify one specific portion of the law that has attracted particular opposition" the prohibition on filing discrimination lawsuits in state court."
More than 130 chief executives and business leaders, including with significant business ties to the Triad, have signed the letter to McCrory asking him and the legislature to repeal the law known foremost for overriding Charlotte's transgender restroom ordinance.
McCrory has called the ordinance a "radical breach of trust and security, " while Republican legislative leaders Tim Moore and Berger blame Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts for PayPal withdrawing from a planned Charlotte facility where 400 high-paying jobs would have been created.
The law also prohibited cities and counties from requiring private contractors to pay a higher set wage on their projects.
The N.C. Values Coalition, in one of its initial responses to the protest letter to McCrory, said those corporations "are shamefully bullying the state of North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory after HB2 was signed into law."
John Sweeney, an advertising professor at UNC Chapel Hill, said the reaction to the state's legislature and governor on HB2 "has been fundamentally negative across the nation."
"Naturally, there is a need to try and shift blame, so the media is a target, as are outsider values.
"This blame-shifting will work with supporters of the governor and the legislature. It will work with no one else."
Although the McCrory administration's recent 18-point "myth vs. facts" news release concentrates on the restroom issue, it suggests that "for the first time in state history, this law establishes a statewide anti-discrimination policy in North Carolina which is tougher than the federal government's. This also means that the law in North Carolina is not different when you go city to city."
However, lawyers specializing in employment law contacted by the Winston-Salem Journal say that a uniform standard isn't always in the best interest of the plaintiffs.
"While the legislators agreed that individuals have the right to sue an employer for discrimination, they took away their most efficient remedy for doing so," said Harvey Kennedy, with Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy & Kennedy LLP of Winston-Salem.
"Therefore, when it comes to state court as a remedy, the anti-discrimination law became meaningless," Kennedy said.
He said he is convinced that the inclusion of the prohibition on filing discrimination claims in state court and the wage restrictions was "a political power grab."
"I understand those two elements were a surprise to most legislators, and may have been to the governor," Kennedy said. During the special session, most legislators did not get a copy of the bill until the beginning of a House judiciary committee meeting.
"There was a will to do something quickly and capture the passion and momentum attached to the restroom ordinance legislation," Kennedy said.
North Carolina had 28,167 claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between fiscal years 2008-09 and 2013-14, representing about 5 percent of national claims during that time period.
Claims based on racial discrimination comprised 39.8 percent, or 11,207, followed by gender at 28.3 percent, or 7,962; national origin at 8.4 percent, or 2,371; and religious at 3.8 percent, or 1,075.
According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, the state agencies responsible for measuring the state's Equal Employment Practices Act — a remedy cited in the bill — said data for those claims was not available.
By prohibiting the state Equal Employment Practices Act as the basis for civil action, Noble said, "this law has essentially eliminated state law sanctions for employers, who can now fire its employees ... with no state law consequences."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.