- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Michigan funeral home discriminated against a transgender employee when it fired her for dressing as a woman rather than a man, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Aimee Stephens, who was born male, worked at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for more than five years, but when she decided to come to work dressed as a woman instead of a man, the funeral home owner, Thomas Rost, fired her. Ms. Stephens had notified Mr. Rost she would be transitioning, but he decided to let her go, citing his religious beliefs.

A lower court ruled Mr. Rost didn’t violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from firing employees based on national origin, sex, color, race and religion — but doesn’t explicitly apply to gay, lesbian or transgender cases. The district court said Mr. Rost’s actions were consistent with his sincerely held religious beliefs.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

“Discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex,” wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore, in a unanimous ruling for the three-judge panel.

Federal courts have split on the question of whether discrimination against gay workers amounts to sex discrimination, and the Supreme Court declined to take up the issue last year.

Ms. Stephens’ complaint led to the discovery that the funeral home discriminated between the sexes in other ways, including by providing a uniform for men, but neither a uniform nor clothing stipend for female employees.

“I pursued this case because no one should be fired from their job just for being who they are. I’m thrilled with the court’s decision,” Ms. Stephens said.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Mr. Rost, said the court’s ruling plowed over his religious rights.

“American business owners, especially those serving the grieving and the vulnerable, should be free to live and work consistently with their faith,” said Gary McCaleb, an ADF lawyer. “The funeral home’s dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one. 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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