Transgender Law Center praises an official memo released today by United States Attorney General Eric Holder committing that the Department of Justice will stop making arguments in litigation suggesting that transgender people are not covered by Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment.
The memo makes clear that “sex” under Title VII includes discrimination based on transgender status, including discrimination “because an employee’s gender identification is of a particular sex, or because the employee is transitioning, or has transitioned to another sex.” It cites a 2012 case brought by Transgender Law Center, Macy v. Holder, in which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination against a transgender employee is a form of discrimination based on sex. The memo concludes that “the Department will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination).”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has attorneys that enforce civil rights laws against entities ranging from local government to school districts as well as attorneys that defend the federal government against discrimination claims brought by federal employees. In lawsuits involving federal employees, DOJ has at times argued that Title VII does not provide protection for transgender workers, relying on outdated case law.
The memo follows a series of recent administrative actions holding that discrimination based upon transgender status is prohibited. In 2011, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued guidance affirming the rights of transgender employees in the federal workforce. In June of this year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13672, which prohibited discrimination based upon gender identity and sexual orientation in federal employment and government contracting. The Department of Labor released regulations to enforce that order last week.
Transgender Law Center Legal Director Ilona Turner stated, “We are thrilled to see this clear commitment from the Department of Justice on the issue of transgender rights. No longer will our government be arguing that transgender people are excluded from the protections of the law. This announcement will have far-reaching effects for transgender people both within the federal workforce and beyond, influencing the courts as well as other employers looking at their legal obligations under Title VII.” She added, “Our communities remain disproportionately unemployed and living in poverty. Legal protections against discrimination can make a real difference.”