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. Stephens, a transgender woman who formerly worked for a funeral home in Detroit, was unlawfully discriminated against based on her gender, the court ruled.
A three-judge panel on the court found that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which has locations in Detroit, Garden City, and Livonia.
Gary McCaleb is an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the funeral home.
"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", he added.
"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 EEOC is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim", Moore wrote.
Yesterday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals joined a growing number of federal appellate courts to hold that Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination expressly covers LGBT employees.
"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.
"Thus, if the EEOC's complaint had alleged that the funeral home fired Stephens based exclusively upon Stephens' status as a transgender person, then this court would agree with the funeral home that the EEOC's complaint fails to state a claim under Title VII", the ruling states.
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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". "The funeral home's dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one".
He does not discriminate in his hiring. The male employee who wishes to dress as a woman goes by "Aimee Stephens".
Last year, a MI federal court dismissed the EEOC's lawsuit, concluding that Title VII does not expressly cover LGBT discrimination.
Rost dismissed Stephens when he announced he would dress as a woman going forward.
"Binding 6th Circuit precedent establishes that any person without regard to labels such as transgender can assert a sex-stereotyping gender discrimination claim under Title VII ... if that person's failure to conform to sex stereotypes was the driving force behind the termination", Judge Cox ruled. A prerequisite to the surgery was that Stephens live one year as a female, and Stephens planned to begin dressing as a woman upon her return from a vacation.
"An employer can not discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align", she continued.
The appellate judges also reversed the lower court's decision that religious beliefs could exempt employers from anti-discrimination laws.
ADF attorneys explain that Rost would be violating his faith if he were to pay for and otherwise authorize his funeral directors to dress as members of the opposite sex while at work.