The Justice Department is now interpreting federal law to categorically prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender people, according to a memo released Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder.
That means the Justice Department will be able to bring legal claims on behalf of people who say they've been discriminated against by state and local public employers, based on sex identity. In defending lawsuits, the federal government also will no longer take the position that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans sex discrimination, does not protect against workplace discrimination on the basis of gender status.
Local transgender rights advocates are praising the decision.
"It's incredibly exciting that the Department of Justice has taken this step and committed that they will no longer make these outdated and offensive arguments in court cases suggesting that transgender workers are not entitled to the full protection of our nondiscrimination laws," said Ilona Turner, legal director at the Bay Area's Transgender Law Center.
The memo covers all components of the Justice Department as well as all U.S. attorney offices. The Justice Department does not have authority to sue private employers, and the new memo does not affect that.
About half of states already have some form of protection for transgender employees, including California, according to Elizabeth Hillman, provost, academic dean and professor of law at UC Hastings College of Law.