Attorney General Becerra Slams Federal Attempt to Circumvent Civil Rights Protections

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today led a coalition of attorneys general in opposing a new Trump Administration rule undermining civil rights protections that prevent federal contractors from discriminating against employees. Under the proposed rule, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) would expand existing exemptions to allow any federal contractor who asserts a religious purpose to discriminate against current or prospective employees based on the religious or moral objections of the contractor. In a comment letter, the Attorneys General urge DOL to rescind the proposal and note, among other things, that it needlessly conflicts with protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“This is 2019, not 1920. No one should fear losing their job because of whom they love,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Trump Administration is paving the way for federal contractors to openly discriminate against the LGBTQ community and anyone else who might not conform to their personal beliefs. Here in California we’re standing up for workers and refuse to roll back the clock on the civil rights of all Americans.”

“All Americans have the right to live and work free from discrimination,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “This proposed rule makes it easier for employers to discriminate against employees who don’t share their same specific religious beliefs, including members of the LGBTQ community. I’m proud to stand with my colleague Attorneys General in opposing this rule and protecting the rights of all workers—regardless of what they look like, where they’re from, who they love, or the God they worship or choose not to worship.”

Under the proposed rule, DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs would expand its interpretation of the religious exemption contained in Executive Order 11246, which was issued one year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was amended in 2014 to include landmark anti-discrimination protections for workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Executive Order 11246 mandates equal employment opportunity in federal government contracting and prohibits all federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. The executive order already allows for a limited exemption that enables certain religious organizations to favor employees or job candidates of a “particular religion.” Under the new proposal, DOL seeks to loosen the standards regarding the types of organizations that can self-identify as religious.

As a result, DOL is opening the door for a broad range of employers, including for-profit corporations, to claim the exemption and discriminate against their employees based on any worker’s non-adherence to specific religious beliefs or practices as understood by the contractor. For example, as a result of the proposal, a gay or transgender employee could potentially be required to adhere to the religious tenets of a for-profit corporation’s owners or board or face the possibility of termination. In the comment letter, the Attorneys General highlight how this expansion of the exemption would directly conflict with existing protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and describe how the rule would harm the states’ residents.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the civil rights of people in California and throughout the country. In May, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against a Trump Administration rule that would allow care providers to deny basic healthcare on the basis of religious or moral objections. Attorney General Becerra also led a coalition of states in asserting that gender non-binary individuals deserve full legal recognition of their accurate gender identity on passports. In July, Attorney General Becerra joined a coalition of attorneys general in defending Title VII’s prohibition against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation before the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, in accordance with California law, the California Department of Justice develops and maintains a list of states that are subject to state-sponsored travel restrictions because of laws in those states that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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