Published: Fri, March 09, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Court says funeral home violated federal law by firing transgender employee

Court says funeral home violated federal law by firing transgender employee

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.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday once again held that workplace anti-discrimination laws extend to protections for transgender workers.

John Knight, senior staff attorney with the LGBT & HIV Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the case before the Sixth Circuit and called it "an exciting and important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country". Stephens, who worked for the funeral home for six years prior to being fired, is transgender. "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".

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. Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Stephens and the EEOC.

"Religious freedom should never be used as a basis to discriminate against people and deny their basic human rights", stated Americans United Executive Director Rachel Laser on Wednesday.

The case will now return to a lower district court for "further proceedings".

Advocates of House Bill 1319, which is now heading to the New Hampshire Senate, said the bill is necessary because the current law prohibiting discrimination has proven to be inadequate for protecting the jobs, housing, and educational opportunities for transgender people.

"RFRA's not a blank check to discriminate", Nevins said. The agency started the ball rolling on the reexamination by federal courts' of earlier rulings that rejected coverage for LGBT workers under the plain language of Title VII.

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The panel's ruling also goes against a memorandum from the Trump administration issued last October in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained that Title VII's sex discrimination clause is about biological sex and not gender identity.

Federal courts have split on the question of whether discrimination against gay workers amounts to sex discrimination, and the Supreme Court declined to take up the issue previous year.

Whether Title VII anti-discrimination laws in employment extend to sexual orientation and gender identity is an issue that's been has been widely disputed.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a 2012 ruling, held that discrimination against transgender individuals is a form of sex stereotyping prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not include specific reference to gender identity or expression.

The EEOC didn't immediately respond March 7 to Bloomberg Law's request for comment.

Anne Noel Occhiallino of the EEOC in Washington represented the commission.

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.

It cited a previous case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that discrimination on the basis of sex means gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.

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