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

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

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled Wednesday that the federal government can force a MI funeral home to allow a male employee to dress as a woman despite the family business's sex-specific dress code. The court ruled that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the freedom of a business to maintain a dress code consistent with its sincerely held faith convictions.

"The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex", said judges Karen Nelson Moore, Helene White and Bernice Donald.

After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the organization sued the funeral home on her behalf. He said in a statement that the opinion "rewrites federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts".

"Including protection for gender identity under Title VII would threaten the religious liberty of people like Tom Rost who operate their businesses according to the principles of their faith".

Thus, even if we agreed with the Funeral Home that Rost's religious exercise would be substantially burdened by enforcing Title VII in this case, we would nevertheless REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Funeral Home and hold instead that requiring the Funeral Home to comply with Title VII constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering the government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against Stephens on the basis of sex.

John Knight, the ACLU attorney who argued Stephens' case says the victory is exciting and important. "In too many workplaces around the country, coming out as trans is a fireable offense, as our client Aimee Stephens personally experienced". It also said the company, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, failed to establish Title VII of the Civil Rights Act robbed owner Thomas Rost of his religious freedom.

"It also ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no "right to discriminate" in the workplace", Knight added.

"This to me seems like interference in a business's need to present a good face to the public", commented one small business owner familiar with the case, who wishes to remain anonymous.

"Midwest Geriatric Management basically ended my career", Horton said in a statement. 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.

"The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect", the Justice Department argued in an amicus brief it filed in a sex discrimination case before the 2nd Circuit in July.

Although the issues are closely connected, most courts have handled them as distinct legal questions.

A growing number of federal appellate courts are deciding that Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination expressly covers LGBT employees.

With respect to potential opposition from the government, Gonzalez-Pagan said, "We'll see what happens".

However, it erred "in finding that Stephens could not alternatively pursue a claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of her transgender and transitioning status", said the ruling.

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