AG Shapiro Leads Opposition against Labor Department’s Attempt to Circumvent Civil Rights Protections for Workers

September 17, 2019 | Topic: Rights

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in opposing a new Department of Labor rule undermining Civil Rights Era 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 claims to have 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 criticisms, that it is in direct conflict with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“All Pennsylvanians have the right to live and work free from discrimination,” said Attorney General Josh 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 Pennsylvania workers—regardless of what they look like, where they’re from, who they love, or the God they worship or choose not to worship.”

“This is 2019, not 1920. No one should fear losing their job because of whom they love,” said Attorney General Xavier 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.”

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. EO 11246 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. The executive order 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.

As it stands, the executive order contains a limited exemption that enables certain religious organizations—such as churches or synagogues—to favor employees or job candidates of their “particular religion.” Under the new proposal, however, DOL attempts to impermissibly and excessively expand those protections to any 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 use it to 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 be fired for espousing their own sincere religious beliefs simply because their employer’s for-profit owners or board hold different beliefs. 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.

Pennsylvania and California led the coalition of 17 Attorneys General, which also includes Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan. Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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