- A federal judge in New York has overturned, in its entirety, a Trump administration rule that would have allowed individuals and entities receiving federal funds to refuse to perform certain health care services — including abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide — on the basis of religious or moral objections (State of New York v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, No. 1:19-cv-04676-PAE (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2019)).
- In his 147-page opinion, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer concluded that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacked the rulemaking authority to create "significant portions" of the rule relating to the "conscience provisions." The court also found that HHS overstepped with its penalty for violating one or more of the provisions: a complete loss of HHS funding.
- In vacating the rule, which was set to take effect Nov. 22, the court concluded that the rule's promulgation was "arbitrary and capricious" on three separate grounds and that HHS had "promulgated a Rule that did not respond to any documented problem."
The now-defunct rule was promulgated as part of a broader Trump administration initiative to expand religion-based protections and exemptions. Back in January, federal judges issued preliminary injunctions halting two HHS rules designed to allow employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate on religious or moral grounds.
Similarly, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has proposed an expansion of the religious exemption contained in Executive Order 11246 — which bars federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin — to include private contractors with a "religious purpose."
Employment lawyers told HR Dive that the expansion would allow certain contractors and subcontractors to use religious affiliation as a defense to employment bias claims. Five senators announced their opposition to the proposed rule on the grounds that it "could allow taxpayer-funded employment discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, and members of certain religious groups."
These ideological differences have even divided the government's agencies. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) disagree on legal protections for LGBTQ applicants and employees. The EEOC maintains that Title VII protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity but has been challenged on this. Cases dealing with this issue have made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The DOJ, representing the administration, says Title VII does not include any such protections. The High Court will soon rule on the issue.