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10 March 2018, 01:00 | Damon Campbell
Court rules against funeral home that fired employee for being transgender
A federal court has ruled that a male funeral director who was sacked after announcing his intention to dress as a woman while performing his duties at a Christian funeral home was the victim of "gender identity" discrimination.
"Discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex, and thus the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] should have had the opportunity to prove that the Funeral Home violated Title VII by firing Stephens because she is transgender and transitioning from male to female", judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the appeals court's opinion. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc.
The background section in the ruling issued by the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals says Stephens wrote a letter to the funeral home owner, Thomas Rost, on July 31, 2013.
"Today's decision is an exciting and important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country", John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement.
The district court ruled only the unlawful termination claim was at issue, and that argument then was rejected, because transgenderism is not a protected class under Title VII.
"The court finds that the funeral home has met its initial burden of showing that enforcement of Title VII, and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely-held religious beliefs", wrote Cox.
The appeals court also overturned the ruling as to whether the EEOC's enforcement efforts must give way to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which "prohibits the government from enforcing a religiously neutral law against an individual if that law substantially burdens the individual's religious exercise and is not the least restrictive way to further compelling government interest". 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.
Appeals Court Rules Sex Discrimination Includes Bias Against Transgender People
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 owners of the funeral home, who did not immediately return a call for comment, argued in court that transitioning to another gender is against their beliefs. "We are consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".
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 funeral home is Michigan's R.G.
Moore's opinion referenced Anthony Stephens, the employee who complained about the funeral home's practice, as "her".
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