July 1, 2014 at 12:25 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Labor Dept. to protect trans employees under current policy
Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez announced the Labor Department will transgender workers under current policy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Following persistent questions over the course of more than two years, the Labor Department announced on Tuesday that it’s set to extend employment non-discrimination protections under current policy to transgender workers.

In a blog post on Monday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced his department is set to prepare guidance to make clear that anti-trans discrimination is discrimination based on sex.

“As we celebrate Pride month and approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Labor Department is reaffirming its commitment to equal opportunity for all,” Perez said. “That’s why we are updating enforcement protocols and anti-discrimination guidance to clarify that we provide the full protection of the federal non-discrimination laws that we enforce to transgender individuals.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing for the Labor Department to interpret Executive Order 11246, which prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors, to protect trans workers from bias in the workforce. In February, Perez told the Washington Blade during a White House news briefing that the decision on whether to extending these protections to trans workers was “under review.”

Implementing the existing directive to protect trans workers would be consistent with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2012 decision in Macy v. Holder, which determined that trans discrimination amounts to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In his blog post, Perez said the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is responsible for enforcing Executive Order 11246, will issue the guidance along with the Civil Rights Center and the Employment & Training Administration. Further, Perez says the Labor Department will seek additional opportunities to extend protections under the law to trans workers.

“Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American dream excludes no one,” Perez concludes.

A Labor Department spokesperson said the new updates would apply wherever the department interprets or enforces sex-based nondiscrimination laws. The question of retroactivity will be determined based on appropriate legal principles for the relevant programs, the spokesperson said.

Unknown is the timing for when the guidance will be formally handed down. The spokesperson said the policy change is an ongoing effort and the department will continue to examine its programs and issue updated guidance as appropriate.

The development comes on the heels of an announcement from President Obama that he’s poised to take related actions by signing two executive orders: one barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the other barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity for federal workers.

In the wake of these decisions, interpreting trans protections under current policy may be redundant.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, praised the move from the Obama administration.

“With the impending signing of the President’s two gender identity executive orders, we are very pleased that Secretary Perez agrees with us on the need to publicly clarify the law that the Department enforces,” Keisling said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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