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09 March 2018, 03:41 | Melissa Porter
Court rules against funeral home that fired employee for being transgender
A USA appeals court on Wednesday said a federal law banning sex bias in the workplace prohibits discrimination against transgender workers, ruling in favor of a funeral director who claimed she was sacked after telling her boss she planned to transition to female from male.
In 2016, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Detroit funeral home and its workplace dress code.
In a decision yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that businesses can not discriminate against employees for identifying as transgender and that Harris Funeral Homes had discriminated against Stephens by firing her in 2013.
"Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law", McCaleb added. "This opinion instead re-writes federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts".
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Stephens, hailed the decision as an "important victory for transgender people and allied communities across the country". "We are consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal". In a statement, John Knight, a senior staff attorney with ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project said, "In too many workplaces around the country, coming out as trans is a fireable offense, as our client Aimee Stephens personally experienced".
"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.
The appeals court said Title VII's ban on sex discrimination protected Stephens, and permitting her to represent herself as a woman did not substantially burden Rost's religious beliefs.
"A lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief" after seeing that part of the court's decision, Gregory Nevins, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc.in Atlanta, told Bloomberg Law.
But before she left for vacation, Rost said, "this is not going to work out" and offered a severance package if Stephens "agreed not to say or do anything", according to the case background.
It cited a previous case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that discrimination on the basis of sex means gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.
"They are trying to use the courts to alter Title VII's prohibition of discrimination in employment based on sex to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity as well, even though Title VII makes no reference to gender identity or transgender status", said Wardlow. Funeral home owner Thomas Rotz's defended the termination, arguing transgender identity is against his religious beliefs.
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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