News (USA)

18 GOP-led states sue for the right to mistreat transgender employees at work

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti speaks to the media outside of the James H. Quillen United States Courthouse in Greeneville on Tuesday, February 13, 2024.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti speaks to the media outside of the James H. Quillen United States Courthouse in Greeneville on Tuesday, February 13, 2024. Photo: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee’s Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti (R) is spearheading a lawsuit for 18 mostly Republican-led states that seeks to block new federal guidelines outlawing discrimination against transgender employees.

The guidelines — recently issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the primary federal agency that enforces employment anti-discrimination laws — prohibit workplaces from allowing transphobic harassment like misgendering and denial of bathroom and locker room access to trans employees. The EEOC says such harassment is a form of sex-based discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law against workplace discrimination. A 2022 Supreme Court decision agreed that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is a form of sex-based discrimination.

In a recent video statement, Skrmetti slammed the EEOC for issuing guidelines that “illegally rewrite Title VII to embrace gender identity.” Skrmetti called the guidelines an example of “abusive federal overreach” and an attempt to “run around our constitution.”

“Under the EEOC guidance, employers cannot maintain sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other private spaces for women or men,” Skrmetti said, mischaracterizing the guidelines. “And if an employee or even a customer uses a pronoun based on a person’s biology, instead of their gender identity, the employer will be liable.”

“When, as here, a federal agency engages in government over the people instead of government by the people, it undermines the legitimacy of our laws and alienates Americans from our legal system,” Skrmetti said in a press release. His release also claimed that federal trans protections should be passed by congressional legislators and not “unaccountable [EEOC] commissioners.”

Skrmetti’s video message also alluded to a July 2022 decision by a judge in Tennessee’s Eastern District that blocked an EEOC and Department of Education (DOE) guidance requiring trans students and employees to be allowed in bathrooms and other facilities matching their gender identity.

Transgender journalist Erin Reed recently noted that, in 2019, the 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that workplace policies against trans employees violated Title VII and a 2022 Supreme Court ruling, even though the court had issued transphobic rulings in the past. The appeals court’s ruling may have established a legal precedent that will be cited in future trans-related discrimination cases.

Earlier this month, Skrmetti joined what has become more than 20 other Republican-led states to sue the DOE over its new Title IX rules mandating anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ students, including the right to use names, pronouns, and gendered on-campus facilities matching their gender identity.

With these rules, any school that receives federal funding will no longer be able to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. This could affect states and school districts with policies to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents or ban trans students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender. The new rules could also give students who face discrimination recourse in federal courts.

In a press conference, Skrmetti (R) invoked the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as justification for his fight to discriminate against trans youth.

“Title IX has protected women for 50 years,” Skrmetti said. “It is a law… built around the idea of men and women, sex binary. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, enduring differences between the sexes necessitate things like separate bathrooms, separate locker rooms, separate living facilities, separate sports teams. This is something that our law has recognized for decades.”

The rules, however, do not suggest that schools eliminate single-gender spaces. Rather, they simply require schools to include everyone who identifies as a boy in boys’ spaces and everyone who identifies as a girl in girls’ spaces.

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