On March 7, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court decision and ruled in favor of a transgender employee who claimed she was terminated by her employer based on her sex pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Aimee Stephens, formerly known as Anthony Stephens, worked as a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. The funeral home had a dress code policy, requiring male employees to wear suits and female employees to wear skirts and business jackets. The funeral home provided free suits to the male employees, but did not (at least initially) provide female employees with any clothing to comply with the company’s dress code policy. Stephens informed the funeral home that she would be transitioning from male to female and therefore would begin to dress to be in compliance with the company’s dress code for females. Shortly thereafter, Continue reading
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Sixth Circuit to Weigh In on Religious Protection and Transgender Rights
Last week, a Detroit funeral home filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit arguing that it could fire a transgender employee who refused to follow its sex-specific dress code. According to the funeral home, allowing the employee (who was transitioning from male to female) to wear women’s clothes at work — namely, a skirt suit — would violate the religious beliefs of the home’s owner.
Last year, at the district court level, the Court said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) shielded the funeral home from liability because the termination stemmed from its owner’s devout Christian worldview. In other words, the Court held that the funeral home was entitled to a religious exemption under RFRA and, therefore, did not violate federal employment discrimination law. In making its ruling, the Court reasoned, in part, that transgender people are not protected by federal anti-bias law.
The EEOC appealed this ruling and filed its brief in February. The funeral home has now asked the Court to affirm the holding that Title VII does not protect transgender people because the meaning of “sex” when Title VII was passed did not include the concept of gender identity. The funeral home also remains adamant that RFRA provides a legal defense for its enforcement of its sex-specific dress code.
The case is EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Case No. 16-2424.