September 17th, 2019
by MD Attorney General’s Office
BALTIMORE, MD (September 17, 2019) – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh today joined a coalition of attorneys general in opposing a new federal 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 because, among other things, it needlessly conflicts with protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“This proposed rule is illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and we will continue to oppose the Trump Administration’s efforts to allow discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin,” said Attorney General Frosh.
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 amended in 2014 to include landmark anti-discrimination protections for workers based on 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, under this proposed rule, a gay or transgender employee may 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.
In submitting the comment letter, Maryland joins the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and Washington.