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 claimant in EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes [pdf], Aimee Stevens (formerly known as Anthony Stephens) was born biologically male, and presented as such when hired. The funeral home’s owner and operator, Thomas Rost, fired her shortly after she informed him that she intended to transition from male to female and would represent herself and dress as a woman while at work.
Last year, a Michigan federal court dismissed the EEOC’s lawsuit, concluding that Title VII does not expressly cover LGBT discrimination.
The 6th Circuit disagreed:
“We hold that the EEOC could pursue a claim under Title VII on the ground that the Funeral Home discriminated against Stephens on the basis of her transgender status and transitioning identity. The EEOC should have had the opportunity, either through a motion for summary judgment or at trial, to establish that the Funeral Home violated Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex by firing Stephens because she was transgender and transitioning from male to female. …
Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII. 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.”
The court also rejected the employer’s claim that applying Title VII’s proscriptions against sex discrimination to the Funeral Home would substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise.
Bravo, 6th Circuit, bravo.
I fully expect an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Fingers crossed hard that when SCOTUS finally takes up this issue, it does the right thing, the more thing, the just thing, and decides this issue once and for all in favor of LGBT civil rights.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.