Federal appeals court gives workplace non-discrimination protection to transgender individuals

Federal appeals court gives workplace non-discrimination protection to transgender individuals

Federal appeals court gives workplace non-discrimination protection to transgender individuals

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.

The case, EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes, began in 2013 when Harris Funeral Homes fired Stephens, who has worked there for six years, after she announced that she would transition.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had initially filed the lawsuit, but Stephens later joined the suit because she feared policy changes in the USA government might prevent the EEOC from representing her interests.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] pursued the claim on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a former employee of Defendant-Appellant R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc.

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"The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex, and therefore the EEOC is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim", Moore wrote.

The EEOC, which also adjudicates job discrimination claims brought by federal workers against their employers, held in a pair of administrative rulings in 2012 and 2015 that the meaning of "sex" has changed since Title VII was passed in 1964 and is now widely understood to include a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. In Zarda v. Altitude Express, in which a skydiver alleged he was sacked after telling a client he was gay, the Justice Department filed an unsolicited amicus brief insisting Title VII didn't cover sexual orientation. "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". The appeals court rejected the argument that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act justified the firing of a Stephens. 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.

The case will now be sent back to the lower court.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Stephens, hailed the decision as an "important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country".

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"Religious freedom should never be used as a basis to discriminate against people and deny their basic human rights", Rachel Laser, the executive director of Americans United, said in a statement.

In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the funeral home, said it is consulting with its client and considering their option for an appeal. "This opinion instead re-writes federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts". The Second Circuit joined the Seventh Circuit in holding that lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers don't have to show that bias was motivated by sexual stereotyping to be protected by Title VII.

Joining in Moore in the decision is U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of George W. Bush; and U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Donald, an Obama appointee.

Moore wrote, "We refer to Stephens using female pronouns, in accordance with the preference she has expressed through her briefing to this court".

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