Asserting that the U.S. Department of Justice “must interpret Title VII as written by Congress,” the DOJ is reversing the Obama-era interpretation of Title VII, taking the position that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
In a memorandum issued this week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ formally withdrew a 2014 memorandum by then-Attorney General Eric Holder taking the contrary position.
Attorney General Sessions contends that transgender individuals are protected from discrimination based on sex, but not based on “gender identity per se.” He noted that Title VII refers only to discrimination based on “sex,” which is “ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female.” He also noted that Congress had specifically referred to gender identity in other contexts, indicating that it would have done so in Title VII had that been its intent. Finally, he said that Title VII did not prohibit treatment “that [took] account of the sex of employees but [did] not impose different burdens on similarly situated members of each sex,” specifically referencing sex-specific bathrooms.
The memorandum concludes as follows:
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. Nor does this memorandum remove or reduce the protections against discrimination on the basis of sex that Congress has provided all individuals, including transgender individuals, under Title VII. . . . The Department of Justice has vigorously enforced [federal laws specifically protecting transgender individuals], and will continue to do so, on behalf of all Americans, including transgender Americans.
The DOJ position is not a surprise, given that it recently submitted a “friend of the court” brief making roughly the same arguments in a sexual orientation discrimination case.