July 18, 2022 – A federal judge in Tennessee has temporarily stopped two federal agencies from enforcing Biden administration directives that extend civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in schools and workplaces.
U.S. District Judge Charles Atchley Jr. ruled in favor of 20 state attorneys general, who said the directives violated a state’s right to enact laws, such as those preventing students from taking part in sports based on gender identity, or requiring schools and businesses to have bathrooms to accommodate transgender people, according to The Associated Press.
Atchley, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2020, issued a temporary injunction that bars the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from applying the Biden administration guidance on LGBTQ discrimination.
“The harm alleged by Plaintiff States is already occurring – their sovereign power to enforce their own legal code is hampered by the issuance of Defendants’ guidance and they face substantial pressure to change their state laws as a result,” the judge wrote in the ruling.
The U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued directives in June 2021 to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The guidance was based on a landmark 2020 Supreme Court decision ruling that said Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, according to The New York Times.
The Department of Education guidance said discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity would be treated as a violation of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The policy suggested the possibility of federal sanctions against schools and colleges, the AP reported.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance outlined the details of what could represent discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace and advised the public on how to file a complaint.
Based on guidance from the two federal agencies, the Biden administration has argued against laws in several states that aim to stop transgender girls from joining female sports teams, the AP reported.
In August 2021, the 20 state attorneys general sued to stop the directives, saying that the authority over those types of policies “properly belongs to Congress, the States and the people.” The coalition of Republican attorneys general, led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, are from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
The attorneys general called for a legal review of the directives. Delaying a legal review, Atchley wrote, would “cause them significant hardship,” and he said the Biden administration could “use the ‘fear of future sanctions’ to force ‘immediate compliance’ with the challenged guidance.”
During oral arguments last year, the attorneys general said the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2020 didn’t extend to Title IX or access to bathrooms or locker rooms, according to Politico.
Atchley’s injunction stops the federal agencies from enforcing the guidance for now. In June, the Department of Education published its Title IX proposed rule, which would codify the protections for transgender students into law. The comment period runs through September.
The department is also expected to follow a separate rulemaking process for deciding who’s eligible for sports, Politico reported, which doesn’t yet have a timeline. Until then, Atchley’s decision will likely be used to support arguments in a Connecticut case that challenges whether transgender women and girls can play on female sports teams. Arguments in the case are set for Sept. 29.