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

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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. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in Garden City discriminated against director Aimee Stephens by firing her in 2013.

Karen Moore - a federal judge who once ruled that judges have almost absolute immunity from claims over their behavior, even when they are "petty, unethical and unworthy" - now has concluded that a funeral home must allow a male employee to dress in skirts, nylons and high heels.

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.

Attorney Dan Korobkin with the American Civil Liberties Union says management never denied that Stephens was sacked because she informed officials of her decision.

In a 3-0 decision, the court said "discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" of federal civil rights law.

The appellate judges also reversed the lower court's decision that religious beliefs could exempt employers from anti-discrimination laws.

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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Representing Harris Funeral Home in the case was Alliance Defending Freedom, a anti-LGBT legal firm that has engaged in efforts nationwide to promote the idea religious liberty should take precedent over LGBT rights. "Tolerating Stephens's understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it", the appeals court said.

The Sixth Circuit strongly dismissed the notion that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act "can be used as a tool to discriminate", Nevins said March 7.

The EEOC said in a September 2014 lawsuit filed on her behalf that the funeral home violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terminating her. He added an appeal is being considered.

"Harris Funeral Home's dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one. It's unconscionable that an employer would fire her simply because she began to live and dress in a manner consistent with her gender identity", Laser said. 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.

Writing the 49-page unanimous opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, determined R.G.

& G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, based in Detroit, Michigan. But, two weeks after asking for support as she began presenting as a woman, her boss, Thomas Rost, told her they found it unacceptable for her to being dressing as a woman, and let her go.