Transgender People Are Protected From Workplace Discrimination, a Court Ruled

Henrietta Brewer
March 9, 2018

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled Wednesday that the federal government can force a MI funeral home to allow a male employee to dress as a woman despite the family business's sex-specific dress code.

ACLU of MI represented Stephens in the case.

A lower court ruled Mr. Rost didn't violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from firing employees based on national origin, sex, color, race and religion - but doesn't explicitly apply to gay, lesbian or transgender cases.

The decision remands the case back to trial court, which concluded the funeral home did have leeway to terminate Stephens under RFRA, a 1993 law meant to protect religious minorities that requires the federal government to take the least restrictive path when infringing upon religious liberty.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] pursued the claim on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a former employee of Defendant-Appellant R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc.

U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, said in the 49-page unanimous opinion issued by the court that R.G. McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".

"Today's decision is an exciting and important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country", John Knight, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project, said in a March 7 statement. "But this ruling affirms that that is illegal, setting an important precedent confirming that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act". "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".

Thus, even if we agreed with the Funeral Home that Rost's religious exercise would be substantially burdened by enforcing Title VII in this case, we would nevertheless REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Funeral Home and hold instead that requiring the Funeral Home to comply with Title VII constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering the government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against Stephens on the basis of sex. "That's exactly what was experienced by Amy Stephens in this case".


"Binding 6th Circuit precedent establishes that any person without regard to labels such as transgender can assert a sex-stereotyping gender discrimination claim under Title VII ... if that person's failure to conform to sex stereotypes was the driving force behind the termination", Judge Cox ruled.

Whether Title VII anti-discrimination laws in employment extend to sexual orientation and gender identity is an issue that's been has been widely disputed.

The EEOC, which also adjudicates job discrimination claims brought by federal workers against their employers, held in a pair of administrative rulings in 2012 and 2015 that the meaning of "sex" has changed since Title VII was passed in 1964 and is now widely understood to include a person's sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Religious freedom should never be used as a basis to discriminate against people and deny their basic human rights", Rachel Laser, the executive director of Americans United, said in a statement.


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.

Other reports by iNewsToday

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER