Published: Fri, March 09, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Court rules MI woman was unlawfully fired for being transgender

Court rules MI woman was unlawfully fired for being transgender

A federal appeals court has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects a funeral home director who was sacked after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for more than five years, but when she made a decision to come to work dressed as a woman instead of a man, the funeral home owner, Thomas Rost, fired her. Ms. Stephens had notified Mr. Rost she would be transitioning, but he chose to let her go, citing his religious beliefs.

The appeals court said Title VII's ban on sex discrimination protected Stephens, and permitting her to represent herself as a woman did not substantially burden Rost's religious beliefs.

The same day the New Hampshire House voted to extend the state's anti-discrimination law to transgender people, the United States Court of Appeals for Sixth Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides the same protections against sex-based discrimination to transgenders as to anyone else.

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. She said his employment was terminated "on the basis of her transgender or transitioning status and her refusal to conform to sex-based stereotypes". The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had sued over the discharge of the employee, who refused to comply with the male dress code.

In a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Stephens in the case, her lawyers called the decision an important victory for transgender workers.

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The sixth circuit appeals court rejected an earlier court's decision that funeral home owner Thomas Rost did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to The Washington Times.

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 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 ACLU Foundation's Jay D. Kaplan and Daniel S. Korobkin also represented Stephens. "The SEP includes "coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply" as a top commission enforcement priority", said the EEOC. Regardless of employers religious beliefs, they are not allowed to discriminate against their employees based on gender or sexuality. "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.

"An employer can not discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align", she continued.

"Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law", he said.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".

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