Sen. Kamala Harris is leading a group of 44 Senate Democrats in urging DOJ to reinstate trans protections under Title VII. (Washington Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

Senate Dems Urge DOJ to Reinstate Trans Protections Under Title VII

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

A group of 44 Senate Democrats led by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) urged the Justice Department on Thursday to reinstate its interpretation of existing civil rights law to prohibit anti-transgender discrimination.

In a letter dated Nov. 2, the Senate Democrats insist Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace, also applies to discrimination against transgender workers.

"The Civil Rights Division, charged with enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states its purpose is 'to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society,'" the letter says. "Transgender individuals are among the most vulnerable Americans. Your department would best serve its mission by clarifying that employees should be hired or fired based on their ability to do the job -- not because of their gender identity."

The letter urges reversal of an Oct. 4 memo signed by the U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserting Title VII "does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se."

As the letter points out, the Sessions memo reverses an earlier memo former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2014 under the Obama administration affirming Title VII "encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status."

Also as noted in the letter, Sessions' memo defies interpretations of Title VII by numerous courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Four federal appellate courts -- the First, Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuit courts of appeals -- have determined employment discrimination against transgender people is barred under Title VII.

"This most recent action by the department to roll back protections for transgender persons is anathema to the Civil Rights Act's purpose," the letter says. "When President Johnson signed the act into law on July 2, 1964, he wisely observed, 'those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.' Your department has repeatedly undermined those very words."

In addition to seeking a reversal of the interpretation of the Title VII, the letter calls on the Justice Department to disclose a list of all complaints of gender identity discrimination it has investigated under the past year. As part of this list, the letter asks for the status of each cases whether the Justice Department intends to resolve or simply close those open investigations.

The U.S. Justice Department didn't immediately respond to the Washington Blade's request to comment on the letter.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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