USA appeals court says Title VII covers transgender workers

A paper butterfly is displayed on a coffin during Asia Funeral Expo in Hong Kong

On Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a MI funeral home had unlawfully discriminated against a transgender employee when it fired her after she informed her employer that she would be presenting as a woman, in accordance with her gender identity.

In a landmark decision on Wednesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against transgender workers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It also said the funeral home failed to establish that the federal workplace law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, substantially burdened the ability of funeral home owner Thomas Rost, a devout Christian, to exercise his religious rights in his treatment of Stephens.

The ruling, which also revived EEOC claims that the funeral home's employee dress code is sexually discriminatory, was lauded by LGBT rights advocates. She said his employment was terminated "on the basis of her transgender or transitioning status and her refusal to conform to sex-based stereotypes".

Jay Kaplan is a staff attorney with the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union which is representing Stephens in this case.

Rost, who was provided free legal representation by anti-LGBT evangelical law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, also claimed that his actions were protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 United States law that bolstered protections for people based on "freedom of religion".

Rost says God has called him to minister to grieving people, and the funeral home website says its highest priority is to honor God.

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Cox said the funeral home was protected by a religious exemption under federal law, but the appeals court disagreed, reversed the ruling Wednesday, March 7, and sent the case back to the District Court for further proceedings.

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.

"In too many workplaces all of the country, coming out as trans is still seen as a fire-able offense", Korobkin told WWJ Newsradio 950's Sandra McNeill.

A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel said, "The district court correctly determined that Stephens was sacked because of her failure to conform to sex stereotyping in violation of Title VII". "Moreover, whatever this Court would say about the question were it writing on a blank slate, Congress has made clear through its actions and inactions in this area that Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination does not encompass sexual orientation discrimination". "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.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Rost and claimed the ruling misinterpreted prior precedent.

"Today's decision misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming code policies", stated ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb.

U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, said in the 49-page unanimous opinion issued by the court that R.G. "We are consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".