Holder Interprets Title VII Protections to Cover Transgender Workers

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Yesterday, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder brought official federal policy in line with evolving jurisprudence arguing that Title VII workplace discrimination protections apply to transgender people. In a memo sent to Justice Department employees, Holder indicated that the body, contrary to a 2006 statement on the issue, will now interpret Title VII to include gender status (including trans or transitioning) under the statute’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex. Holder wrote:

After considering the text of Title VII, the relevant Supreme Court case law interpreting the statute, and the developing jurisprudence in this area, I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status. 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.

Importantly, this announcement only covers claims brought by people working for state and local public employers; the Justice Department may not sue private employers.

Trans advocates characterized the announcement as a limited but welcome clarification. Speaking to the Associated Press, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling put it this way: “It’s just another message to employers … that it is illegal in every state in this country to discriminate against transgender people in employment.”