Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded a Department of Justice rule that granted transgender people workplace protections. While the Obama administration prohibited employers from discriminating against transgender employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Sessions has ordered for the provision to no longer apply to gender identity.
On Oct. 5, an internal DOJ memo revealed that Sessions had reversed a policy from the Obama administration that had protected transgender employees under the 1964 Civil Rights Act's Title VII, which protects workers from being discriminated based on their sex, BuzzFeed News reports.
"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.
"Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se," the memo continued. "This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress."
The attorney general concluded that the DOJ "will take that position in all pending and future matters ... 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."
In December 2014, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a memorandum that the DOJ interpreted gender identity as relevant to Title VII, reports The Washington Post.
Holder wrote that while "Congress may not have had such claims in mind when it enacted Title VII ... The Supreme Court has made clear that Title VII must be interpreted according to its plain text, noting that 'statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils.'"
Sessions' latest directive rescinded Holder's memorandum. DOJ spokesperson Devin O'Malley defended the decision, asserting that Sessions was restoring Title VII back to congressional interpretation.
"The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided," O'Malley said. "Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today's action."
Several LGBTQ civil rights groups blasted Sessions' directive. Attorney Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, a former lawyer of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, asserted that Sessions was "trying to roll back the clock and pretend that the progress of the last decade hasn't happened."
James Esseks, director the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project, released a statement asserting that the new DOJ policy would not hold up in court, The Hill reports.
"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," Esseks said.