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US appeals court says civil rights law covers transgender workers

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A federal law banning sex bias in the workplace prohibits discrimination against transgender workers, a U.S. appeals court said on Wednesday, ruling in favor of a funeral director who was fired after telling her boss she planned to transition to female from male.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc in Detroit unlawfully discriminated against Aimee Stephens, formerly known as Anthony Stephens, based on her sex.

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The court 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.

Several federal appeals courts have said that discriminating against transgender workers is a form of unlawful sex bias. But the 6th Circuit was the first to consider a religious defense in such a case.

 The court decided a lawsuit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed on behalf of Stephens in 2014.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that represents the funeral home, said the decision allowed the government to “strong-arm” religious employers.

In a statement, Stephens’ lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union called the decision an important victory for transgender workers.

Rost had claimed that he viewed his work as a religious service for grieving families, and that employing a transgender woman would distract customers.

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Rost said he could not be held liable for discriminating against Stephens under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the government from burdening an individual’s religious practice.

But Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, writing for the court on Wednesday, said Rost could not use his customers’ “presumed biases” as an excuse for firing Stephens.

“Tolerating Stephens’s understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it,” Moore wrote.

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The decision reversed a 2016 ruling by a federal judge in Detroit who had said that Rost was shielded from the lawsuit because he operated his business “as a ministry.”

Rost also said that because his company pays for employees’ work clothes, he would be forced to violate his religious beliefs by paying for Stephens to wear women’s clothing. But the court said he was not legally required to pay for the clothes, so it would not burden his religious practice.

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Daniel Wiessner in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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WATCH: Saturday Night Live airs Christmas special — that’s just one giant dig at the Electoral College

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NBC's "Saturday Night Live" aired an opening skit that was just one giant attack on the electoral college.

A snowman introduced the segment, saying that we could look in on the holiday table conversation thanks to hacked Nest cams.

The skit featured a house in San Francisco, California, a second in Charleston, South Carolina and a third in Atlanta, Georgia.

Each dinner table debated impeachment, and the differences between President Donald Trump and his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But then the snowman said that none of their votes matter.

"They'll debate the issues all year long, but then it all comes down to 1,000 people in Wisconsin who won't even think about the election until the morning of," the snowman said. "And that's the magic of the Electoral College."

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Georgia mayor being recalled for racism resigns from office: report

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Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly resigned in a special city council meeting held on Saturday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Saturday.

"The resignation came just days after Councilman Jim Cleveland resigned saying he‘d rather leave office on his own terms than face voters in a recall election next month," the newspaper reported. "Both resignations follow an AJC investigation launched seven months ago into claims that an African American candidate for city administrator was sidetracked by Mayor Theresa Kenerly because of his race."

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Nine 2020 Democrats unite to demand DNC Chair Tom Perez scrap debate rules: report

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The Democratic National Committee is facing a revolt for the party's 2020 presidential candidates for its restrictive debate rules.

"Nine Democratic presidential candidates, including the party's front-runners, are urging the Democratic National Committee to toss out the current polling and fundraising rules used to determine who appears in televised debates and reopen the exchanges to better reflect the historic diversity of the current field. The candidates say the rules exclude diverse candidates in the field from participating," CBS News reported Saturday evening.

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