Court rules in favor of fired transgender funeral director

Katrina Barker
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.

Aimee Stephens informed her employer and co-workers around July 31, 2013, at Detroit-based R.G.

The EEOC learned that the funeral home, until fall 2014, provided clothing to male workers dealing with the public but not females.

In a decision yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that businesses can not discriminate against employees for identifying as transgender and that Harris Funeral Homes had discriminated against Stephens by firing her in 2013.

"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. 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.

"Simply permitting Stephens to wear attire that reflects a conception of gender that is at odds with Rost's religious beliefs is not a substantial burden under RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act]", wrote Moore."We hold that, as a matter of law, tolerating Stephens's understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it".

Although transgender people are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible and Jesus preaches against discrimination, Rost had told the court his transphobic actions were protected because he "sincerely believes that the Bible teaches that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift", and that he would be "violating God's commands if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home's funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of the organization".

"American business owners, especially those serving the grieving and the vulnerable, should be free to live and work consistently with their faith", Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told Bloomberg Law in a March 7 email. He said in a statement that the opinion "rewrites federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts". Funeral home owner Thomas Rotz's defended the termination, arguing transgender identity is against his religious beliefs.

"The funeral home's dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one".

Nor does compliance with Title VII amount to an endorsement of Stephens' views, the appeals court said. "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".

"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". "That certainly was a concern for many in the LGBT community", even in jurisdictions with state or local laws that expressly prohibit bias based on gender identity and sexual orientation bias, he said.

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

The case, Equal Employment Opportunity v. R.G.

Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of MI, called it a "path-breaking decision" that builds on other, precedent-setting cases.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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