Attorney General Jeff Sessions has formally determined that a 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination, upending previous guidance issued under the Obama administration.
The action could potentially open people up to discrimination in the workplace due to their gender identity.
According to a memo dated Wednesday that was obtained by BuzzFeed, Sessions has instructed US attorneys and the heads of federal agencies to stop interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a protection on the basis of gender identity.
As BuzzFeed News highlights, Sessions' directive also includes a particularly disturbing sentiment: that this will be the government's position in the present and future under the Trump administration. "As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress", he wrote.
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The Supreme Court has not resolved the question of whether "sex" can mean sexual orientation or gender identity. Sessions's Justice Department is intent on kicking progress in the teeth: In his mind, Title VII specifically protects "men and women", meaning that the Justice Department could find itself up fighting its own employees in court.
Title VII was a landmark civil rights law that banned discrimination in employment, schools, and voter registration on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. For example, both Attorney General Holder and President Barack Obama came to the conclusion that DOMA, the 1996 law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, was unconstitutional. "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". "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". So, the DOJ explanation has nothing to do with protecting transgender people.
Transgender people face extraordinary discrimination and harassment every day.
The reversal will inevitably be met with legal challenges from civil rights groups, and the ACLU has already vowed to fight it.
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"According to Sessions, an employer is free to hang a "Transgender Need Not Apply" sign in their window".
But in a statement, Devin O'Malley, a Justice Department spokesman for civil rights issues, framed Mr. Sessions's decision in terms of obeying the rule of law.
Congress makes our laws and the courts interpret - not the DOJ.
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