The North Carolina Bar Association has voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of protected classes in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The change means North Carolina attorneys may not discriminate against clients because of sexual orientation.
The move was approved by the association’s ethics committee. The revised wording now reads: “While employed or engaged in a professional capacity, a lawyer should not discriminate on the basis of a person’s race, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This responsibility of nondiscrimination does not limit a lawyer’s right to advocate on any issue.”
The new protected status has been controversial. The original move to amend the rules began two years ago and has been accompanied by vigorous debate on both sides.
Some opponents see sexual orientation and gender identity as choices rather than genetically determined. Others opposed listing any particular group and advocated a broad, general anti-discrimination statement.
The language must be approved by the state Supreme Court before it becomes part of the preamble.
Note: North Carolina law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the bar association’s amendment may signal a change in other professional groups’ codes of ethics.
The change for lawyers appears only to apply to clients seeking access to the courts. It does not apply to hiring practices within law firms.