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Transgender woman wins appeal in court case against Detroit-area funeral home

Transgender woman wins appeal in court case against Detroit-area funeral home

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 Homes of Detroit and owner Tom Rost unlawfully discriminated against a transgender employee named Aimee Stephens.

The EEOC learned that the funeral home, until fall 2014, provided clothing to male workers dealing with the public but not females.

Overturning a lower court decision, the panel concluded that Harris Funeral Homes engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII and could not claim an exemption through the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"Today's decision is an exciting and important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country", John Knight, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project, said in a March 7 statement.

According to the lawsuit, Stephens's firing amounted to unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII-a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex [or] national origin".

"The court finds that the funeral home has met its initial burden of showing that enforcement of Title VII, and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely-held religious beliefs", wrote Cox.

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 U.S. law that bolstered protections for people based on "freedom of religion". "RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost's religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC has shown that enforcing Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination".

According to Kaplan, employment discrimination against transgender people is pervasive and, as a result, many live in poverty; so this decision "gives a great deal of hope to a lot of people out there". 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.




In Aug. 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox ruled that Harris Funeral Homes could claim protection under RFRA.

"But this ruling affirms that that is illegal, setting an important precedent confirming that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act", Knight said. McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".

"Harris Funeral Home's dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one". "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".

The court then quashed a previous ruling on the issue, and found in favour of the unlawful termination claim. 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.

Anne Noel Occhiallino of the EEOC in Washington represented the commission.

Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of MI, called it a "path-breaking decision" that builds on other, precedent-setting cases. ADF's Douglas G. Wardlow also represented R.G.

& G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, based in Detroit, Michigan.


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