Biden administration faces lawsuits from 18 states over transgender worker protections

Eighteen Republican-led states have taken legal action against the Biden administration, filing a lawsuit late Monday. The lawsuit challenges the new federal guidance that seeks to safeguard transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.

Attorneys general from 18 states, led by Tennessee, have filed a lawsuit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice. They argue that the new rules implemented by the federal agency unlawfully impose obligations on employers to acknowledge the preferred pronouns of transgender workers. Additionally, they claim that these rules require employers to allow transgender employees to use restrooms and dress in a manner that aligns with their gender identity.

According to their argument, the expansion of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aims to prevent workplace discrimination based on sex and other categories, was wrongfully carried out by the EEOC.

“In America, the power to make laws is entrusted to the people’s elected representatives, not to unaccountable commissioners. This EEOC guidance, in the words of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, is an assault on our constitutional separation of powers. When a federal agency, like in this case, oversteps its bounds and acts as a governing body instead of a representative one, it undermines the legitimacy of our laws and creates a sense of alienation among the American people towards our legal system.”

The EEOC serves as a bipartisan agency within the Department of Labor. Established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its primary responsibility is to implement and uphold workplace anti-discrimination measures. The agency is overseen by five commissioners, appointed by the president, with the majority party appointing three of the commissioners.

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According to Skrmetti, the new guidance is a misuse of federal power as it aims to eliminate women’s private spaces and penalize the use of biologically accurate pronouns. This comes at the expense of Tennessee employers.

The lawsuit involves not only Tennessee but also several other states. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The EEOC spokesperson directed NBC News to the Department of Justice for comment. However, the DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment at the time.

The EEOC recently released a set of guidelines on workplace harassment, which includes new rules specifically addressing transgender workers.

The guidance on workplace harassment of LGBTQ individuals refers to the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v. Clayton County. This ruling recognized that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity falls under the category of sex-based discrimination, which is explicitly prohibited under Title VII.

In their lawsuit, the 18 attorneys general acknowledge the significant 2020 ruling, but they offer a distinct interpretation compared to the EEOC. They argue that the Supreme Court did not intend to impose an obligation on employers to provide accommodations relating to employees’ gender identity and sexual orientation. Instead, they maintain that the court’s decision had a narrower scope, specifically prohibiting employers from terminating workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit argues that neither Title VII nor the Bostock ruling allows the EEOC to enforce a mandate for gender-identity accommodations. According to the suit, such a mandate fails to pass major-question scrutiny and raises constitutional concerns.

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Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed against the Education Department by a group of over 20 Republican-led states, including 14 of the states that filed the lawsuit against the EEOC on Monday. The lawsuit is in response to the new rules implemented by the Education Department concerning protections for transgender students in federally funded schools. Additionally, last month, another group of Republican-led states filed a similar lawsuit against the EEOC, this time regarding its new rules that allow workers to take time off for abortions.

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