PayPal nixes N. Carolina expansion, 400 jobs, over discrimination law; Miss. under fire for religious “freedom” law dubbed discrimination

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RALEIGH, N.C. | PayPal said Tuesday that it was scrapping a $3.6-million, 400-job expansion in North Carolina, the biggest tangible economic backlash so far to a new state law that restricts protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

More than 100 corporate leaders have decried the law, saying it is unfair and makes it more difficult to attract talent. PayPal’s announcement came days after Lionsgate decided to move the filming for the pilot episode of a comedy series to Canada.

“This decision reflects PayPal’s deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect,” the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, organizers say some customers have pulled out of one of the world’s largest furniture markets in High Point, and New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals said it was reconsidering building a $50 million facility in Durham County that would have created 50 jobs paying an average of $76,000 a year.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders did not respond to requests for comment on PayPal’s decision. Just days before signing the law March 23, McCrory was on hand when PayPal announced plans for its new operation center in Charlotte, his hometown.

A group that supported the legislation said PayPal pulled out after receiving millions in corporate incentives. The North Carolina Values Coalition said in a statement that “a company with its hands in the pockets of the taxpayers of North Carolina shouldn’t insert itself into the bathroom policies of the state.”

The legislation marked the first state law in the nation limiting the bathroom options for transgender people, requiring them to use those conforming to the sex on their birth certificates. The law also excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from anti-discrimination protections, and blocks municipalities from adopting their own anti-discrimination and living wage rules.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, offered his state as a site for PayPal’s expansion in response to the company’s announcement. In a statement Tuesday, Shumlin said he had written to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman pointing out that Vermont has a “proud history of non-discrimination and protecting the rights of all citizens.”

Elsewhere, Mississippi’s governor signed a law on Tuesday that allows public and private businesses to refuse service to gay couples based on the employers’ religious beliefs.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523, despite opposition from gay-rights groups and some businesses who say it enables discrimination. Some conservative and religious groups support the bill.

The measure’s stated intention is to protect those who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman, that sexual relations should only take place inside such marriages, and that male and female genders are unchangeable.

“This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the Republican governor wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account.

The measure allows churches, religious charities and privately held businesses to decline services to people whose lifestyles violate their religious beliefs. Individual government employees may also opt out, although the measure says governments must still provide services.

“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws,” Bryant said. “It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.”

Other states have considered similar legislation. North Carolina enacted a law, while governors in Georgia and South Dakota vetoed proposals.

Bryant acted within hours of receiving the bill after it cleared its final legislative obstacle Monday, even as opponents tried to marshal pressure to persuade Bryant to reject it.

“This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty,” Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said in a statement. “Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame.”