Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) policy that transgender workers are protected from discrimination by a 1964 civil rights law.
BuzzFeed on Thursday reported it had obtained a memo from Sessions the day before alerting agency heads and U.S. attorneys about the change.
Sessions’ memo said that the DOJ will no longer interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to mean that the law’s safeguards extend to discrimination due to 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,” he wrote.
“This is a conclusion of law, not policy,” Sessions added. “As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress.”
“The Department of Justice will take that position in all pending and future matters (except where controlling lower-court precedent dictates otherwise, in which event the issue should be preserved for potential future review).”
Some Twitter users on Thursday criticized Sessions’ move, which could have far-reaching implications across the federal government.
Sessions’ move is a reversal of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s December 15, 2014 memo about the DOJ and transgender employee protections.
Holder announced at the time that former President Barack Obama’s DOJ considered the protections to shied against discrimination based on gender identity.
“I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” he wrote.
“The most straightforward reading of Title VII is that discrimination ‘because of … sex’ includes discrimination because an employee’s gender identification is as a member of a particular sex, or because the employee is transitioning, or has transitioned, to another sex.”
Sessions said in Wednesday’s memo that his decision should not be construed to “condone mistreatment” due to gender identity.
“The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals,” he said.
“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.”