New Laws in MS, NC, Leave Two States in 'Mess'
Protesters in Mississippi opposing the new law allowing businesses to refuse service to people who violate their religious beliefs.
“It’s crazy, right? What a mess for the state,” said Tom Spiggle, a labor attorney representing employees at Spiggle Law Firm in Arlington, Virginia. He was speaking about so-called religious freedom laws signed into law April 5, dictating which genders could use which bathrooms, among other things, in North Carolina and allowing businesses in Mississippi to refuse service to gay people.
Could he think of anything like this that has come before? “Racial segregation in the 1950s is the only thing I can think of in recent memory, where you have entire classes of people being told what public accommodations they can use,” Spiggle said. “It’s certainly not new for franchisors to deal with different laws across states, but nothing as high-profile as this before.”
Although the bathroom rule is getting all the publicity—it prohibits people who are transgender from using the bathroom of their choosing—the North Carolina law has other features as well. It prevents localities from passing higher minimum wages, and also from enacting broader anti-discrimination rules than provided by the state, “and the state provides none,” Spiggle says.
In Mississippi, the new law provides businesses with the right to refuse service to someone if the person violates their religious beliefs, such as catering a same-sex wedding. Franchise attorney Shelley Spandorf with Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles said that would apply to any franchisee operating in the state, even if their contract with the franchisor had no such provision. “The contract says you have to follow the law,” she says. “The fact it’s a really ugly law is beside the point.”
The week brought strange juxtapositions of news. In the same news cycles as the NC and MS laws, California passed a $15 minimum wage statewide, and San Francisco made news with the first fully funded family leave policy for employees in the city. Add the Supreme Court’s ruling for gay marriage and the high-profile transformation of Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner last year, and that partly explains why supporters of the bills in the two states may feel culturally under siege.
“The basic issue is we can’t let Caitlyn Jenner into our bathrooms because she’ll pervert our children,” said Fred LeFranc, who operates restaurant consulting firm Results Thru Strategy in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, mocking the scare-tactics language that he says bill supporters used to push the law through.
“On a personal level I think it’s crazy. It makes very little sense, and of course more importantly you can see already the effect on business,” LeFranc says about the North Carolina law. “It takes the halo off the city.
“From a franchise perspective, in hotels, the Charlotte Convention & Visitors Bureau is very concerned because people are talking about pulling out of conventions,” LeFranc added. “It’s not like there will be a 20 percent drop in economic activity, but it will slow down growth.”
A poll in the Charlotte Business Journal this week showed a 50-50 split between those who support the law in North Carolina and those who want it repealed, so there are obviously many more opinions out there on the issue. I’d like to hear yours, as well as what your franchise is doing about the laws one way or the other. Send them my way, because these issues will be news for quite a while.
“It went together quickly, in the dark of night,” LeFranc says about the North Carolina bill. “It will come apart slowly.”