The phrase was also cut from an August 2017 that then-Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt sent to agency staff his first day on the job, according to internal agency documents that environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth obtained in November through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with HuffPost. An undated draft of the letter shows “sexual orientation” crossed out in red, as well as several other minor changes. It is not apparent who made the edits.
Interior chalked the exclusion up to a simple clarification in language. Agency spokeswoman Carol Danko said Interior complies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and sex, extends to LGBTQ workers.
While that is true, it’s a rather perplexing explanation from an administration that recently made the exact opposite argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. In an August brief, the Department of Justice asked the court to set a legal precedent that would make it legal to fire a person for being transgender, arguing that Title VII only protects against discrimination based on a person’s biological sex, as HuffPost previously .
Danko did not respond to HuffPost’s specific questions about the change or how Interior’s position on Title VII conflicts with that of DOJ. Instead, she accused HuffPost of chasing “a non-story seeking controversy where none exists.”
“Under Secretary Bernhardt’s leadership, the Interior Department has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment of any kind,” she wrote. “In fact, our internal policies have been redrafted with a broader brushstroke to explicitly capture inappropriate conduct beyond the legal standards of harassment and discrimination such as political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, and status as a parent.”
She added: “To the extent that the Department provides federally-funded programs and services these statements do hold individual workers accountable to deliver these services in a nondiscriminatory way. Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are not explicitly covered in statute in the context of federal funding. If these protections are omitted in the context of program administration it could increase risk for discrimination for these groups.”
In June 2017, the Department of Commerce similarly removed sexual orientation and gender identity from its equal employment policy, as BuzzFeed . The agency quickly revised the policy amid public backlash.
“I want to assure you that the EEO statement was never intended to change policy or exclude any protected categories,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wrote in an email to agency staff, according to BuzzFeed. “The Department of Commerce remains committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of transgender status and sexual orientation.”