Discrimination Based on “Any Vote [a] Voter May Cast or Consider or Intend to Cast”

A North Carolina statute, § 163-274(a)(6), makes it a misdemeanor “to discharge or threaten to discharge from employment … any legally qualified voter on account of any vote such voter may cast or consider or intend to cast.” North Carolina employment law also generally makes it civilly actionable to fire an employee “in contravention of express policy declarations contained in the North Carolina General Statutes,” which I suspect means that actions that violate this criminal statute would probably also be tortious.

Say that a private employer in North Carolina fires an employee for expressing support for a candidate or a proposed constitutional amendment that the employer views as highly reprehensible. Say, for instance, the employee says “Newt Gingrich is the best presidential candidate out there,” though without an express statement that “I’m going to vote for him,” or “I’m glad that a constitutional proposal to expressly forbid same-sex marriage is finally on the ballot.” And say that the employer then fires the employee based on that statement.

Should that be viewed as discharging the employee “on account of any vote such voter may … consider or intend to cast,” and therefore actionable? Or would it likely be viewed as discharge based on the employee’s pro-candidate speech rather than the employee’s perceived intended future vote, and therefore not actionable? (North Carolina is not one of the 16 states that generally bars private employer discrimination based on an employee’s speech or partisan political activity.) I ask this because I’m finishing up an article that would list the state and local laws that ban private employer discrimination based on speech or certain kinds of political activity, and I’m trying to decide whether to categorize this statute as a possible protection for speech supporting or opposing a candidate or constitutional amendment.

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