Tennessee is joining 15 others to try to overturn a recent ruling that found sex discrimination laws cover transgender people.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery made the announcement Tuesday. He and his colleagues want the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a decision issued earlier this year by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Tennessee. It decided in favor of a transgender employee who was fired by a Michigan funeral home for refusing to abide by its dress code.
The states argue that the 1964 law that prohibits sex discrimination meant only biological sex, not gender identity. They say only Congress or the states themselves can expand that definition.
"The Sixth Circuit's decision ... essentially rewrote federal law," Slatery said in a prepared statement. "It is up to the states, not the federal judiciary, to determine which protections, or not, should flow to individuals based on gender identity.
Nebraska, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming, Kentucky, Maine and Mississippi are also involved in the suit.
Slatery's announcement prompted the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBT rights group, to issue a call for Slatery's office to hire more transgender lawyers.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says there's no way to separate sex from gender identity, and Slatery might have seen that perspective were there transgender attorneys on staff.
"Let's say you're the type of person, you're an employer who believes, there are only two sexes: male and female. And you see a transgender employee and that employee doesn't fit the box the way you think of sex," he said. "That is still sex discrimination."
The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take up the case.