Judge Rules Funeral Home Allowed To Fire Transgender Worker Because Of Religion

On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that a Detroit funeral home, which operates “like a ministry,” was allowed to fire a transgender employee because of their religious rights.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox ruled that the RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc illegally fired their funeral director Aimee Stephens for being a transgender person. They fired her after she told her employer that she would be transitioning from male to female.

Cox said:

The EEOC has not challenged the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code, that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires males to wear a pants-suit with a neck tie. Rather, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has a Title VII right to ‘dress as a woman’ (i.e., dress in a stereotypical feminine manner) while working at the funeral home, in order to express Stephens’ gender identity. If the compelling interest is truly in eliminating gender stereotypes, the court fails to see why the EEOC couldn’t propose a gender-neutral dress code as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented here.

Image credit: Flickr
Image credit: Flickr

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that the funeral home was violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law bans discrimination based on “gender stereotyping.”

The gender-neutral dress code would probably help, but the EEOC didn’t include that in their case. The funeral home may have tried to find something else if the dress code was out of play.

The funeral home said that Stephens is biologically male and was violating their dress code because she doesn’t wear suits. The owner of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, said:

[He] sincerely believes that the Bible teaches that a person’s sex (whether male or female) is an immutable God-given gift and that it is wrong for a person to deny his or her God-given sex.

I don’t understand why people make such a huge deal about transgender people. It was a big topic earlier in the year with the transgender bathroom debate.

 


6 thoughts on “Judge Rules Funeral Home Allowed To Fire Transgender Worker Because Of Religion

  1. I’ve just had a look at the ruling issued by Judge Cox, and I find it quite appalling. According to this document, the EEOC made two complaints against this funeral home: (1) that Stephens was being fired for being transgender and wanting to transition, and (2) that she was fired for not conforming to the dress code.

    The first complaint was rejected on the grounds that transgender people are not a protected class. Isn’t that nice? If you’re transgender, you don’t have a legal right to be transgender.

    As regards the second complaint, Stephens was refusing to wear male attire. Naturally, since she’s transitioning as a trans woman.

    But note how the judge addressed this issue in the paragraph above:

    “The EEOC has not challenged the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code,
    that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires males
    to wear a pants-suit with a neck tie.”

    Maybe there was no reason to. Maybe Stephens didn’t object to it. I personally wouldn’t have. We all know that at certain workplaces there are dress codes. If you’re working in such a place and you don’t object to what you’re required to wear, then there’s no reason to object to the dress code.

    “Rather, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has a Title VII right
    to ‘dress as a woman’ (i.e., dress in a stereotypical feminine manner)
    while working at the funeral home, in order to express Stephens’ gender
    identity.”

    And this is dishonest. “Dressing as a woman” does not imply “dressing in a stereotypical feminine manner.” When it comes to dress, there’s as much variation among transwomen as there is among ciswomen. Many, many transwomen don’t dress in a “stereotypical feminine manner.” E.g., there are many transwomen who rarely, if ever, wear a dress or skirt. So that if the dress code for women involved a pants-suit, there wouldn’t be any reason to object to that.

    “If the compelling interest is truly in eliminating gender stereotypes,
    the court fails to see why the EEOC couldn’t propose a gender-neutral
    dress code as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less
    restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented
    here.”

    But who says the compelling interest is to eliminate gender stereotypes? When I came out, my compelling interest was to live my life in accordance with my nature. Eliminating gender stereotypes is separate question. Basically, the court ignored the first question altogether, and thereby reduced the case to a question of clothing.

    But clothing is only a part–and not necessarily an important part–of someone’s life. The judge’s approach trivializes transpeople by suggesting that clothing is what transitioning is all about. There’s much, much more to it than that. We’re talking about living our lives, which involves far more than simply what clothing we’re going to wear.

    And as to the suggestion that there should be gender-neutral clothing, again there would be no need for the EEOC to suggest such if Stephens herself was happy enough with the dress code. How many women in any facet of life demand gender-neutral clothing? There’s not necessarily any reason for a transperson to demand such.

    Eliminating gender stereotypes doesn’t necessarily imply unisex clothing. We transpeople are like everybody else: we want to wear what makes us happy, what we feel comfortable with. What other people wear is none of my business. I have no right to demand that all cisgender people wear unisex clothing. They have the right to decide for themselves.

    So if it had been my case, and the judge rejected it on the grounds that I hadn’t demanded a unisex dress code, I’d say, “Your Honor, why should I demand such a thing? It’s not my business to tell other people how to dress.”

  2. Title VII says nothing about transgenders. The EEOC pursuing contrived cases like this illustrates just how little real discrimination there is these days.

    1. Not all law is statute. There are decades of Federal court decisions going back to the 1980’s, starting with Price Waterhouse v Hopkins. Most relevant, though would be Schroer v. Library of Congress*, 2008, upon which enough other decisions were based that the EEOC eventually had to comply and change their policies.

      *The crux of that decision was that just as discrimination because someone changed religion is still religious-based discrimination and therefore prohibited, so too discrimination because someone changed sex [sic] is still sex-based discrimination and therefore prohibited under the CRA of ’64.

      The judge in this case is either ignorant of that entire body of law, or is purposely ignoring it. Either way he is making it very clear to the Supreme Court should it reach them that some form of protected status is needed and warranted. They’re also going to have to sort out at that point whether people’s unprovable, dynamic personal opinion regarding cosmology trumps the civil rights of others.

        1. True; only lower judges in the same circuit are bound to that degree. However, as I indicated there is a *body* of decisions dating back decades all based on the same interpretations. When this & the other current cases reach the Supreme Court it will be that body of decisions pitted against a vague, amorphous, undefined concept known as “religious freedom”. Which, if given free reign in our legal system would allow anyone to disregard the laws everyone else must follow so long as they “sincerely believe” – at that moment – that their deity says so. In other words, based on nothing more than their personal opinion of the person they wish to discriminate against.

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