Federal Proclamation Effect on The Status of Employment Discrimination Laws in California

On October 4, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that under his interpretation of Title VII, gender identity and transgender status are not protected. According to Attorney General Sessions, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.” The phrasing causes some pause, given that, in 1998, the United States Supreme Court held in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that Title VII also applies to harassment between members of the same gender. The Justice Department recently made the same argument with respect to sexual orientation at oral argument before the Second Circuit in Zarda v. Altitude Express. This is a significant departure from the Obama Administration as well as the current position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which interprets Title VII to prohibit such discrimination. While this topic continues to be debated, employers may be struggling to confirm they are in compliance with the ever-evolving legislation. Background Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits, in relevant part, discrimination and harassment “because of […] sex.” Title VII does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status, or gender expression. Until recently, Circuit Courts of Appeal unanimously interpreted the term “sex”…