In a landmark decision affecting the nation's transgender population and federal, state and local governments, America's top lawman today announced federal prosecutors would now take the position in litigation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections against discrimination based on gender identity.
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder's office issued a press release noting this is a reversal of previous policy at the Department of Justice. Before this, the prohibition against discrimination based on sex excluded any consideration based on how a person presents or identifies their gender.
"This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status," Holder said in a statement. "This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants. And it reaffirms the Justice Department's commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans."
Title VII is the article in the 50-year-old legal mandate that makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against its workers or prospective hires because of their sex, among other things.
The Human Rights Campaign was quick to praise the reversal. "The decision by Attorney General Holder to fully embrace the legal standard set forth in Macy will go a long way towards advancing equality for the transgender community," said Sarah Warbelow, HRC's legal director. "Transgender people continue to face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the workplace. We are thrilled to see the Department of Justice take this important step."
In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in Macy v. Holderthat discrimination based on an individual's gender identity is sex discrimination and thus constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And in September, the EEOC filed complaints in federal courts in Florida and Michigan against two separate companies accused of discriminating against transgender employees.
Mia Macy, whose case sparked this historic change, sent out this tweet:
In its statement, the Justice Department said the attorney general's memo is designed to foster consistent treatment of claimants throughout the government and reduce confusion. "This memo clarifies the Civil Rights Division's ability to file Title VII claims against state and local public employers on behalf of transgender individuals. The Department of Justice does not have authority to file suit against private employers."
This is the latest of several steps the Obama administration has taken to protect transgender people against discrimination, in employment and other venues. President Obama in July signed one executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity and another banning gender identity-based discrimination in federal employment of civilians. Sexual orientation-based discrimination was already banned in the latter situation.
The Department of Education recently made clear that under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, transgender students should have access to the single-sex activities that accord with their gender identity, in any school that receives federal funds. And transition-related health care coverage can now be offered under federal employees' insurance plans.