Washington, D.C. – On March 1, the United States Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) officially rescinded a Trump-era rule that vastly expanded the ability of federal contractors and subcontractors to discriminate based on religion in employment. The “Religious Exemption Rule” – unlawfully issued in the final days of the Trump administration by the very office charged with preventing discrimination by federal contractors – expressly allowed a contracting company to discriminate against women and LGBTQ+ people in employment, so long as it could tie the decision to religious belief.
In January 2021, Oregon Tradeswomen, Pride at Work, and the American Federation of Teachers, represented by Democracy Forward, the National Women’s Law Center, and Albies & Stark LCC, filed a legal challenge (currently stayed) against the DOL and OFCCP, arguing that the Trump-era rule was unlawful and harmful. When the Biden Administration proposed a draft rescission of the rule in 2021, the same coalition, again represented by Democracy Forward, submitted a comment that supported the rescission and described how the Trump-era rule harmed workers by sanctioning discrimination against women, LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities, and anyone who runs afoul of an employer’s religious beliefs. The National Women’s Law Center also submitted a comment supporting the rescission and describing the ways in which it emboldened discrimination on the basis of sex.
Following the coalition’s legal challenge and its regulatory engagement, DOL rescinded the rule, citing the coalition’s lawsuit and arguments.
“LGBTQ+ and other marginalized workers have won a big victory with the rescission of this dangerous Trump Administration rule,” said Jerame Davis, Pride at Work Executive Director. “The Biden Administration deserves our thanks and appreciation for rescinding this troubling rule and sending a clear message that the federal government does not condone discrimination.”
“This reversal restores a proper balance between religious freedom and freedom from discrimination based upon sex and sexual orientation,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “If you do business with the federal government, you should adhere to the constitutional and statutory protections conferred by the Founders and the Congress, including the Title VII anti-discrimination laws. We are grateful President Biden has listened and acted to restore the anti-discrimination standards that were previously in place for decades.”
“This rescission from the Department of Labor’s OFCCP is a victory for the rule of law, workers across the country, and religious freedom,” said Robin Thurston, Deputy Legal Director at Democracy Forward. “The Trump Administration’s unlawful rule enabled contractors to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate, and it exposed historically marginalized individuals to an increased risk of workplace discrimination. We applaud the Biden Administration for rescinding this harmful rule and making clear that the federal government does not sanction discrimination in the workplace.”
“When employers are given a license to discriminate in the name of religion, women and LGBTQ people are put at risk,” said Emily Martin, Vice President of Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “This rescission rolls back an unlawful and harmful rule that opened the door to federal contractors placing new obstacles in the way of equal employment opportunity and ensures that public dollars will not be used to perpetuate these harms.”