Sixth Circuit Rules Transgender Employees Protected by Title VII

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Earlier this month, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers cannot discriminate against transgender individuals, and that they cannot use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, reports Noah Berger for Slate.

This ruling came from the case of EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who worked for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, was presenting as male when she was hired, but announced her intention to transition to living as a woman in 2013. Her boss, Thomas Rost, claimed that her transition violated God’s plan, and fired her.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and later the ACLU, sued the business on the grounds that firing Stephens violated Title VII’s prohibition of hiring discrimination based on sex. While a district court ruled that Stephens had been subject to discrimination based on sex stereotypes (though they believed the law did not ban discrimination against transgender people), they also ruled that Rost had the right to fire her under the RFRA.

The 6th Circuit overturned this ruling. In the court’s opinion, Judge Karen Nelson Moore stated that Title VII does ban discrimination against transgender people, since it bans discrimination based on either sex or sex stereotypes. Wrote Moore, “[A]n employer cannot discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align.”

Moore also stated that Rost could not justify firing Stephens based on the RFRA, since working with a transgender person does not constitute a “substantial burden” on Rost’s religious beliefs.

With this opinion, Moore and the 6th Circuit have contributed to a rising tide of decisions in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.

Read the Slate article here.

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