Friday, December 19, 2014

DOJ: Title VII Covers Gender-Identity Discrimination

The US Department of Justice now reads Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination “based on gender identity, including transgender status.”  In a memo to DOJ components and the US Attorneys, dated December 15, 2014 (and available here), the Attorney General reasoned:

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. As the Court explained in Price Waterhouse, by using “the simple words ‘because of,’ ... Congress meant to obligate” a Title VII plaintiff to prove only “that the employer relied upon sex-based considerations in coming to its decision.” 490 U.S. at 241-242. It follows that, as a matter of plain meaning, Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “because of ... sex” encompasses discrimination founded on sex-based considerations, including discrimination based on an employee’s transitioning to, or identifying as, a different sex altogether. Although 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, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., 523 U.S. 75, 79 (1998).

 Accordingly, DOJ “will no longer assert that Title VII's prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination).”  (The memo added: “’Sex-stereotyping’ remains an available theory under which to bring a Title VII claim, including a claim by a transgender individual, in cases where the evidence supports that theory.”)


--Sachin Pandya

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Parts of the DOJ have long been according rights to transgender individuals through its Civil Rights Division, specifically with regard to Title IX education issues. According to the statement on the DOJ website announcing the statement, "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." I think we will soon see such suits by DOJ.

Posted by: Jillian Weiss | Dec 20, 2014 7:02:20 AM

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