Lawsuit To Pull Back Curtain on HHS’ Decision to Abandon Civil Rights Protections Across Broad Range of Taxpayer Funded Programs

Administration’s Action Opens Door to Allowing Use of Federal Tax Dollars to Deny Critical Services Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sued the Trump administration for failing to release records detailing the administration’s decision to stop enforcing critical federal non-discrimination protections as well as its proposal to roll back federal regulatory protections in a broad range of programs funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In November 2019, HHS announced that it would no longer enforce federal regulations that  prohibit discrimination in grant programs. These regulations, which are still in effect, prohibit HHS grant recipients from discriminating against program participants based on factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

Under the administration’s “Notice of Nonenforcement,” HHS program participants no longer have meaningful federal protections against discrimination in these programs. The enforcement rollback, which was announced simultaneously with an HHS proposed rule on this same topic, effectively eliminates federal non-discrimination protections in this area.

“The Trump administration is setting a dangerous precedent by leaving vulnerable communities at risk of discrimination without any federal recourse,” said Democracy Forward Communications Director Charisma Troiano. “The public deserves to know who was behind this decision to ignore legal requirements and invite unlawful discrimination in taxpayer funded programs.”

On December 16, 2019, Democracy Forward filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking:

  • Communications with nongovernmental entities such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council among others

  • Records regarding waiver requests to bypass compliance with the current grants regulation

  • Documents revealing enforcement actions taken with regard to the current regulations

Democracy Forward is suing because HHS failed to comply with its statutory transparency obligations under the FOIA.

HHS’s refusal to enforce current federal nondiscrimination protections and its proposed rule are part of the administration’s campaign to dismantle federal protections for communities that face significant discrimination. In a December 2019 letter, Committee Chairs for the House Oversight and Reform, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor Committees urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to abandon the administration’s harmful proposal. Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray separately joined the House Committee on Education and Labor and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairs in urging the administration to rescind its notice of nonenforcement. Earlier this year, Senators called attention to the administration’s record of undermining these critical protections through statements and multiple letters calling on the administration to cease its attacks on these communities.

On Thursday, February 27th, the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing titled “The Administration’s Religious Liberty Assault on LGBT Rights.”

The suit against the Department of Health and Human Services was filed on February 26, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


Press Contacts

Charisma Troiano
(202) 701-1781

Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.