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Attorney general says Title VII applies to transgender rights

An announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder radically changes the federal understanding of how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its prohibition of gender discrimination functions by encompassing not only gender at birth but the entire spectrum of gender identity. The announcement, which follows a 2012 lawsuit naming Holder as the defendant, influences the Department of Justice definition of sexual discrimination, with widespread implications for federal employees and private-sector employers.

Holder says the question is not what was intended by the sitting Congress when Title VII was ratified in 1964, but the literal letter of the law. The plain text of Title VII prohibits discrimination based on gender, and draws no distinction between biological or birth gender and gender identity as experienced by a given person. The Civil Rights Act as a whole workplace discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or other protected status.

This announcement changes the landscape of gender relations in employment significantly. Two cases of gender identity discrimination brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Florida and Michigan will serve as the testing ground for Holder's interpretation of Title VII. In both cases, individuals who stated their intent to change gender to their employers were terminated. The EEOC is pursuing the complaints on gender discrimination and wrongful termination grounds on behalf of the terminated parties.

Holder's reading of Title VII text opens new avenues for transgendered persons to seek redress for workplace discrimination, including religious discrimination based upon the beliefs of a company's owners. In doing so, it adds additional civil rights protection under law for GLBT persons through affirmative action and places further legal constraints on employers' ability to engage in harassment, wage discrimination and other disparate impact actions.

Source: LGBT Weekly, "Attorney General Holder announces Justice Dept will recognize transgender discrimination as sex discrimination", December 19, 2014

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