Appeals Court Rules Sex Discrimination Includes Bias Against Transgender People

Posted March 10, 2018

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday struck down an employee termination based on the employee's transgender identity, despite the employer's strong religious beliefs. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes of Detroit and owner Tom Rost unlawfully discriminated against a transgender employee named Aimee Stephens.

Expand | Collapse (Photo: RG&GR Harris Funeral Homes) Tom Rost, president and owner of the R.G.

Attorneys urged the court to rule that the funeral home qualifies for the "ministerial exception" to Title VII, but it said Stephens was not a ministerial employee and the funeral home is not a religious institution.

"Discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex", one of the judges wrote in the ruling. It also ensures that employers will not be able to weaponize their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no "right to discriminate" in the workplace. The company owner, Thomas Rost, had claimed that requiring him to keep Stephens on staff would be an unjustified substantial burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs. Rost said that would be a violation of the company's sex-specific dress code, and that it would also violate his sincerely held religious belief that sex is an immutable gift from God that can not and should not be changed.

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Representing Harris Funeral Home in the case was Alliance Defending Freedom, a anti-LGBT legal firm that has engaged in efforts nationwide to promote the idea religious liberty should take precedent over LGBT rights.

The appellate court decision returns the case to a federal judge who had dismissed the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex". McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal". "Only a small segment of people would want to have a man dressed as a woman conducting services at a funeral home or cemetery".

"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", Knight said. "It's unconscionable that an employer would fire her simply because she began to live and dress in a manner consistent with her gender identity", Laser said. Other appeals courts have recently found that sexual orientation is also protected under Title VII. The Second Circuit joined the Seventh Circuit in holding that lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers don't have to show that bias was motivated by sexual stereotyping to be protected by Title VII.

The panel's ruling also goes against a memorandum from the Trump administration issued last October in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained that Title VII's sex discrimination clause is about biological sex and not gender identity.

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Writing the 49-page unanimous opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, determined R.G.

However, it erred "in finding that Stephens could not alternatively pursue a claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of her transgender and transitioning status", said the ruling.

Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan's deputy legal director, said he doesn't know what the legal remedy will be, but cases of this nature often result in some sort of compensation for the person's loss of employment.

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