Sessions reverses policy protecting transgender workers from discrimination

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed course on whether federal law banning sex discrimination in the workplace provides protections for transgender employees, saying in a memo that it does not.

The memo sent to U.S. Attorneys’ offices on Wednesday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only prohibits discrimination on the basis of a worker’s biological sex, and not their gender identity.

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Sessions rescinded an Obama administration memo from 2014 that said Title VII does protect transgender people, a position also taken by several federal appeals courts in recent years.

Department spokesman Devin O‘Malley said in a statement the government cannot expand the law beyond what Congress had intended.

“Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action,” he said.

RELATED: Protests against Trump's transgender military ban

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Protests against President Trump's proposed transgender military ban
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Protests against President Trump's proposed transgender military ban
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A participant cries during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Transgender activist Tanya Walker speaks at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Demonstrators gather to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A participant dressed as both Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump attends a protest against Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Demonstrators gather to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
COLUMBUS CIRCLE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/29: A group of New Yorkers gathered at Columbus Circle across the Trump International Hotel and Tower New York in Central Park to raise their voices in protest against discrimination towards the LGBT community, in the aftermath of the Trump/Pence regime decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protesters gather in front of the White House on July 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. Trump announced on July 26 that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Dozens of protesters gather in Times Square near a military recruitment center to show their anger at President Donald Trump's decision to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military on July 26, 2017 in New York City. Trump citied the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' for his decision. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 26: Human Rights Campaign supporters hold up signs as the House Democrats along with the LGBT Equality Caucus' Transgender Equality Task Force members hold a press conference outside of the Capitol to call on President Trump to reverse his ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Protesters display placards against US President Donald Trump during a demonstration in front of the US Army career center in Times Square, New York, on July 26, 2017. Trump announced on July 26 that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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But Sharon McGowan of LGBT group Lambda Legal, who worked at the Justice Department during the Obama administration, said the memo “blatantly ignores” a growing body of court decisions that said discrimination against transgender people is a type of sex bias.

“We are confident that the courts will see this flip in position for what it is - an anti-LGBT political pronouncement that finds no support in the law,” she said.

The Democratic National Committee also criticized the memo in a statement, and urged Congress to pass a law explicitly protecting LGBT workers from discrimination.

 

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