Transgender People Are Protected From Workplace Discrimination, a Court Ruled

Randolph Lopez
March 10, 2018

The decision by Moore and two others on the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals punished a Christian-owned MI funeral home for requiring that men dress as men, and women as women, when they deal with customers who are going through the trauma of the loss of a loved one.

While Stephens claims she was sacked based on the owner's Christian beliefs, which don't align with her transgender lifestyle, the funeral home claims it was simply upholding its gender-specific dress code.

The case, EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes, began in 2013 when Harris Funeral Homes fired Stephens, who has worked there for six years, after she announced that she would transition.

Overturning a lower court decision, the panel concluded that Harris Funeral Homes engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII and could not claim an exemption through the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The ACLU told Buzzfeed that the decision therefore sets an "important precedent" and "ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no "right to discriminate" in the workplace".

The court also rejected the company's argument that it didn't violate Title VII because keeping Stephens on as an employee after she informed owner Thomas Rost that she would be transitioning from male to female in the workplace would have violated his sincerely held religious beliefs.

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.

According to Kaplan, employment discrimination against transgender people is pervasive and, as a result, many live in poverty; so this decision "gives a great deal of hope to a lot of people out there".

"The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex", said judges Karen Nelson Moore, Helene White and Bernice Donald.

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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. McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal". "It does address the funeral home's religious excuse in a comprehensive and powerful way".

"So this ruling", he said, "affirms that that kind of firing is unlawful".

"Including protection for gender identity under Title VII would threaten the religious liberty of people like Tom Rost who operate their businesses according to the principles of their faith".

The case is the latest to weigh in on whether Title VII relates to gender identity and sexual orientation, something the Department of Justice has fought under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The EEOC didn't immediately respond March 7 to Bloomberg Law's request for comment.

The case now will return to Cox's courtroom for additional work, including the EEOC's claim that the funeral home's clothing allowance policy was discriminatory.

Moore rejects the assertion Stephens' presentation as a woman would be a distraction for the deceased's loves ones at a funeral home, deriding the idea as "premised on presumed biases", as well as the notion it would place a burden on Rost's religious beliefs because he pays for attire for employees.

Other reports by GlobalViralNews

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