Sessions reverses DOJ policy on transgender employee protections
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reversing course on the Justice Department’s policy that a 1964 civil rights law protects transgender individuals from discrimination.
In a memo to U.S. attorneys dated Wednesday and obtained by BuzzFeed, Sessions said that the Justice Department will no longer interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to mean that the law’s protections extend to discrimination based on gender identity.
“Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status,” Sessions wrote in the memo.
Sessions wrote that it is the responsibility of the Justice Department to interpret the law “as written by Congress” and that the existing text does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
Sessions said that that position will apply to “all pending and future matters,” BuzzFeed reported.
“The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals. Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections,” the memo says.
Title VII specifically bars employers from discriminating against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
But several federal courts have ruled that Title VII’s protections extend to gender identity, as well, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing federal workplace discrimination laws, also maintains that position.
Under the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo in 2014 announcing that the Justice Department would take the position that Title VII “encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.”
Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesperson, said in a statement obtained by The Hill that the decision was made in order to align the Justice Department with the law as written by Congress.
“The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided. Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action,” O’Malley said.
“This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday slammed the apparent decision.
“Today marks another low point for a Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement.
“Discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, just as DOJ recognized years ago. We are confident that the courts will continue to agree and will reject the politically driven decision by Attorney General Sessions,” Esseks said.
Updated: 2:47 p.m.