Title VII of the landmark 1964 federal law states that employers cannot discriminate against someone "because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." In December 2014, under former President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo saying that Title VII protections include protections for transgender individuals.
But in a memo sent Wednesday to U.S. attorneys and other top department officials across the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said otherwise.
"Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se," the memo reads. "As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress…. Therefore, as of the date of this memorandum, which hereby withdraws the December 15, 2014, memorandum, the Department of Justice will take that position in all pending and future matters."
In a statement Thursday, a Justice Department spokesperson said, "The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided."
"Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated [the] action," the statement continued. "This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
The memo comes just over two months after President Donald Trump first announced a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military. The Department of Defense is currently in the midst of a six-month period in which it is developing an implementation plan for the directive, which is facing numerous legal challenges.