Aimee Australia Stephens, formerly known as William Anthony Beasley Stephens, worked for R.G.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday once again held that workplace anti-discrimination laws extend to protections for transgender workers.
Attorneys urged the court to rule that the funeral home qualifies for the "ministerial exception" to Title VII, but it said Stephens was not a ministerial employee and the funeral home is not a religious institution.
The case will now be sent back to the lower court.
Representing Harris Funeral Home in the case was Alliance Defending Freedom, a anti-LGBT legal firm that has engaged in efforts nationwide to promote the idea religious liberty should take precedent over LGBT rights. ADF represented the funeral home in the case. When she informed her boss, Thomas Rost, of her intention to transition from male to female, Rost fired her. Stephens then filed a complaint with the EEOC.
In 2016, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Detroit funeral home and its workplace dress code. McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal". The ACLU told Buzzfeed that the decision therefore sets an "important precedent" and "ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no "right to discriminate" in the workplace". "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".
The judge added: "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 significance of this decision is hard to overstate", said Lambda Legal lawyer Sharon McGowan in an email to BuzzFeed News. "That's exactly what was experienced by Amy Stephens in this case". Second, it makes clear religious freedom as outlined under RFRA doesn't supersede Title VII's prohibition on employment discrimination.
"So this ruling", he said, "affirms that that kind of firing is unlawful".
In essence, the Sixth Circuit establishes two milestones with the decision. The agency started the ball rolling on the reexamination by federal courts' of earlier rulings that rejected coverage for LGBT workers under the plain language of Title VII.
The Justice Department previously said the federal provision considered in Wednesday's ruling - Title VII of the 1964 civil rights law - didn't necessarily protect against discrimination based on gender identity.
Federal appeals courts that have looked again at the law in the wake of the EEOC's rulings have divided on the issue as it relates to sexual orientation bias.
Whether Title VII anti-discrimination laws in employment extend to sexual orientation and gender identity is an issue that's been has been widely disputed.
On behalf of the court, Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote: "Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII".
Joining in Moore in the decision is U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of George W. Bush; and U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Donald, an Obama appointee.
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