An appeals court has ruled that a Michigan-based Christian-owned funeral home must allow a male employee who identifies as female to dress in women's clothes despite their moral objections.
Although the issues are closely connected, most courts have handled them as distinct legal questions.
The sixth circuit appeals court rejected an earlier court's decision that funeral home owner Thomas Rost did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to The Washington Times. But, Stephens lost the initial court battle after her former employer cited religious beliefs as justification for her termination.
"Discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex, and thus the EEOC 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", said the decision. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, were sufficient enough to exempt him from nondiscrimination laws. The court further found that Rotz was not afforded protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [text, PDF] because Title VII does not substantially burden Rotz's ability to freely exercise his religion, and the government's interest in protecting employees from sex discrimination outweighs protection under RFRA. But R.G. & G.R. Harris signaled that it might take the case to the Supreme Court.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the business, said it was consulting with its clients about an appeal. ADF represented the funeral home in the case.
"[However] the Funeral Home is not affiliated with a church; it does not claim to have a religious goal in its articles of incorporation; it is open every day, including Christian holidays; and it serves clients of all faiths". "The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex".
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"Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law", McCaleb added. He said in a statement that the opinion "rewrites federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts".
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".
"In too many workplaces all of the country, coming out as trans is still seen as a fire-able offense", Korobkin told WWJ Newsradio 950's Sandra McNeill.
Nor does compliance with Title VII amount to an endorsement of Stephens' views, the appeals court said. The ACLU told Buzzfeed that the decision therefore sets an "important precedent" and "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".
Rost, who was provided free legal representation by anti-LGBT evangelical law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, also claimed that his actions were protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 USA law that bolstered protections for people based on "freedom of religion". "I'm thrilled with the court's decision". "That's exactly what was experienced by Amy Stephens in this case".
In essence, the Sixth Circuit establishes two milestones with the decision.
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