Sessions' DOJ reverses transgender workplace protections

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tue., June 13, 2017.

Reuters

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed an Obama-era policy explicitly defining transgender workers as protected under employment discrimination laws, CBS News' Paula Reid reports.

The Wednesday policy reversal of what qualifies as employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act comes down to an idealogical disagreement over whether "sex" is decided by a person's birth certificate, or whether sexual discrimination includes broader gender identity. Title VII prohibits any employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 interpreted "sex" discrimination to apply to discrimination based on gender identity, while Sessions' DOJ interprets that it only applies to discrimination between men and women. 

Sessions' DOJ argues Holder went beyond the definition of the 1964 law by including transgender discrimination. 

"The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided," DOJ spokesperson Devin O'Malley said. Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today's action. This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." 

The move comes after President Trump has announced he will prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military, a decision that shocked his own party and caused backlash from Democrats and civil liberties groups. 

Sessions' latest policy shift could very well could end up in court, Reid reports. Already, it's under fire from civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"Today marks another low point for a Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect," James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement. 

"This Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has time and time again made it clear that its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities, rather than standing up for them as they should be doing," Esseks continued. "Discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, just as DOJ recognized years ago. We are confident that the courts will continue to agree and will reject the politically driven decision by Attorney General Sessions."