A federal appeals court has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects a funeral home director who was sacked after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes of Detroit and owner Tom Rost unlawfully discriminated against a transgender employee named Aimee Stephens.
It also said the funeral home failed to establish that the federal workplace law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, substantially burdened the ability of funeral home owner Thomas Rost, a devout Christian, to exercise his religious rights in his treatment of Stephens.
The Sixth Circuit appears to be the first circuit to address anew in a published opinion whether Title VII's sex bias prohibition also outlaws gender identity bias in the absence of proof that the discrimination targeted a worker for behavior that allegedly didn't conform to perceived traditional gender stereotypes, Nevins said. "The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex". "There is no way to disaggregate discrimination on the basis of transgender status from discrimination on the basis of gender non-conformity, and we see no reason to try".
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Stephens, hailed the decision as an "important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country".
Rost, who was provided free legal representation by anti-LGBT evangelical law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, also claimed that his actions were protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 United States law that bolstered protections for people based on "freedom of religion".
The EEOC said in a September 2014 lawsuit filed on her behalf that the funeral home violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terminating her. The decision reversed a ruling from 2016 by a federal judge in Detroit who had said that Rost was not liable because he claimed to operate his business "as a ministry".
"Discrimination on the basis of transgender or transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex", the court ruled.
Joining in Moore in the decision is U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of George W. Bush; and U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Donald, an Obama appointee. "In too many workplaces around the country, coming out as trans is a fireable offense, as our client Aimee Stephens personally experienced".
But the EEOC's complaint also asserts Ms. Stephens was sacked because she did not conform to "sex- or-gender-based preferences, expectations or stereotypes", said the District Court ruling.
Nor does compliance with Title VII amount to an endorsement of Stephens' views, the appeals court said. "Aimee's identity had no bearing on how well she performed her job".
"Today's decision misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming code policies", he added.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Rost and claimed the ruling misinterpreted prior precedent. The court found such policy discriminatory and further held that the EEOC was permitted to bring the claim, even though Stephens did not raise the issue in her complaint.
U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, said in the 49-page unanimous opinion issued by the court that R.G. "Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law".