A three-judge panel on a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled Wednesday the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn't allow employers to engage in anti-transgender employment discrimination.
The decision remands the case back to trial court, which concluded the funeral home did have leeway to terminate Stephens under RFRA, a 1993 law meant to protect religious minorities that requires the federal government to take the least restrictive path when infringing upon religious liberty.
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".
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". McCabe said his organization is "consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal".
A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel said, "The district court correctly determined that Stephens was sacked because of her failure to conform to sex stereotyping in violation of Title VII". "We are thrilled for Aimee, and for all trans folks, to be able to announce this win today".
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Sharon McGowan, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, a LGBT-rights advocacy group, told Buzzfeed that the decision adds to "the overwhelming consensus" of the judiciary that LGBT people are protected under the law, despite the Trump's administration's insistence that they are not.
It also said the funeral home failed to establish that the federal workplace law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, substantially burdened the ability of funeral home owner Thomas Rost, a devout Christian, to exercise his religious rights in his treatment of Stephens. "That's exactly what was experienced by Amy Stephens in this case". The Second Circuit joined the Seventh Circuit in holding that lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers don't have to show that bias was motivated by sexual stereotyping to be protected by Title VII.
The same day the New Hampshire House voted to extend the state's anti-discrimination law to transgender people, the United States Court of Appeals for Sixth Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides the same protections against sex-based discrimination to transgenders as to anyone else.
Religious freedom law doesn't shield funeral...
"The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect", the Justice Department argued in an amicus brief it filed in a sex discrimination case before the 2nd Circuit in July.
Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote the opinion, which was joined by Judges Helene N. White and Bernice B. Donald. ADF's Douglas G. Wardlow also represented R.G.
It cited a previous case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that discrimination on the basis of sex means gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.