The U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter to the University of North Carolina (UNC) System on Wed., May 4, warning that by complying with the state’s recently passed legislation that bars transgender people from public restrooms that match their gender identity, the university system is violating federal Title IX legislation.
“As a condition of accepting funds from the [Department of Justice], UNC signed assurances specifically acknowledging that it will comply with Title IX,” the letter reads. “… The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has issued Title IX guidance clarifying that all students, including transgender students, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX and that Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination extends to discrimination based on gender identity.”
The letter also commented on contradictory statements made by UNC System President Margaret Spellings in regard to the law and gave the system until Monday, May 9 to comply. If UNC fails to amend its policies, the system risks losing federal funding.
In March, North Carolina lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory passed statewide legislation to ban transgender people from public restrooms and locker rooms that do not correlate to the gender they were assigned at birth. In response, Spellings issued a letter to the UNC community, saying that all campuses would comply with the new law.
However, as the Justice Department letter pointed out that, on April 13 — after the Justice Department opened an investigation into UNC’s bathroom policies — Spellings said that the UNC System “will not tolerate any sort of harassing or discriminatory behavior on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
“We take this determination seriously and will be conferring with the governor’s office, legislative leaders, and counsel about next steps and will respond to the department by its May 9 deadline,” Spellings said in a statement following receipt of the department’s letter.
Also on Wednesday, the Justice Department told McCrory and other legislative leaders in the state that the law — the N.C. Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or HB2 — is illegal and gave them till Monday to respond.
In The Charlotte Observer, North Carolina Speaker of the House of Representatives Tim Moore called the Justice Department letter a “huge overreach.” McCrory responded Thursday, saying North Carolina will meet the Monday deadline, but it is unclear what actions will be taken.
UPDATE: After meeting with the university’s board of governors, University of North Carolina (UNC) System President Margaret Spellings said on May 10 that the UNC System is considering hiring lawyers to defend against a federal lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice last week issued a statement to the university saying that by complying with the state’s law on transgender bathroom use, the UNC system is in violation of Title IX. The department gave the UNC system until May 9 to demonstrate that it had amended any policies in violation of the federal law. On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory sued the Justice Department, which responded with a suit against the state. McCrory included the university system as a defendant in his suit.
UNC risks losing more than $4 billion in federal funding if it does not comply with federal law. Spellings said the university is “truly caught in the middle.”