Federal appeals court rules for fired transgender funeral director

10 March, 2018, 01:12 | Author: Joy Garcia
  • Ted Eytan  Flickr

Other appeals courts have recently found that sexual orientation is also protected under Title VII.

"Discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex, and thus the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] should have had the opportunity to prove that the Funeral Home violated Title VII by firing Stephens because she is transgender and transitioning from male to female", judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the appeals court's opinion.

A three-judge panel rejected the idea that a male funeral director dressing as a woman would be a distraction for loved ones of deceased persons utilizing the professional services of the Christian funeral home, asserting that the idea is "premised on presumed biases".

Aimee Australia Stephens, formerly known as William Anthony Beasley Stephens, worked for R.G. "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".

Although transgender people are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible and Jesus preaches against discrimination, Rost had told the court his transphobic actions were protected because he "sincerely believes that the Bible teaches that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift", and that he would be "violating God's commands if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home's funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of the organization".

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.

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed an amicus brief supporting Stephens, praised the court's decision. "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", McCaleb's statement said.

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.

EEOC explained in a September 2014 statement the suit against Harris was part of an "ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan". Regardless of employers religious beliefs, they are not allowed to discriminate against their employees based on gender or sexuality. The decision reversed a ruling from 2016 by a federal judge in Detroit who had said that Rost was not liable because he claimed to operate his business "as a ministry".

Moore added that requiring the business owner, Thomas Rost, "to comply with Title VII's proscriptions on discrimination does not substantially burden his religious practice".

"Thus, if the EEOC's complaint had alleged that the funeral home fired Stephens based exclusively upon Stephens' status as a transgender person, then this court would agree with the funeral home that the EEOC's complaint fails to state a claim under Title VII", the ruling states. But, Stephens lost the initial court battle after her former employer cited religious beliefs as justification for her termination. If a least restrictive means is available to achieve the goal, the government must use it. "It has failed to do so here".

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