NewsMar 09, 2018 by Alyssa Duvall
A panel of three judges of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Wednesday that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, a Christian-owned business in Detroit, Michigan, and owner Tom Rost violated equal employment opportunity laws discriminated against a transgender employee named Aimee (formerly Anthony) Stephens.
The panel overturned a lower court decision and concluded that Harris Funeral Homes engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII and was not exempt under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
"The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex, and therefore the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim," the ruling read, according to court documents.
"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."
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a defense firm specializing in religious liberty cases, said in a statement released Wednesday that the ruling "re-writes federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts." The panel's ruling also contradicts a memorandum from the Trump administration issued last October in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained that the sex discrimination clause cited by the judges refers to biological sex, not gender identity.
ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb added, "Today's decision misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming code policies."
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