6th Circuit Schedules Argument in Case Where Judge Justified Anti-Transgender Discrimination Under Federal RFRA

By Adam Polaski • August 22, 2017 • 9:15 am

On October 4, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in a case concerning a transgender woman who was fired from her job because of her gender identity. The case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home, is based out of Michigan and was filed on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman fired from her job at a funeral home in 2013, weeks after transitioning.

Last year, in August 2016, a federal judge issued an unprecedented ruling, distorting the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act beyond belief when it cited the federal RFRA as justification for the funeral home firing Stephens.

In 2016, we wrote here at Freedom for All Americans, “This is an unprecedented ruling, representative of the ongoing hijacking of the federal RFRA, passed in 1992 with the intent of religious minorities – not ensuring that employers could use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate. Since the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, we have seen more and more examples at the state and local level of people broadly reinterpreting the federal RFRA as cover for advancing discrimination. The decision in this case is a startling development that sets a dangerous precedent for religious employers to essentially ignore and override existing civil rights laws and anti-discrimination measures. It opens a Pandora’s Box, allowing employers to essentially ignore civil rights laws and discriminate against individuals if they claim it’s because of sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Now it is the duty of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to overturn this terrible ruling and deliver justice to Aimee Stephens and the many other transgender people in the 6th Circuit, which covers Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky, who experience employment discrimination.

Controlling precedent in the 6th Circuit has long recognized that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects transgender people from employment discrimination. The 2004 ruling in Smith v. City of Salem found that when an employer discriminates against a transgender person because of their transition, the employer is engaging in discrimination based on “sex,” which is prohibited under federal law.

In the Smith ruling, the 6th Circuit wrote, “After Price Waterhouse [a Supreme Court ruling finding that discrimination based on gender stereotyping amounts to discrimination based on sex], an employer who discriminates against women because, for instance, they do not wear dresses or makeup, is engaging in sex discrimination because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex. It follows that employers who discriminate against men because they do wear dresses and makeup, or otherwise act femininely, are also engaging in sex discrimination, because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex.” The court wrote that, in effect, the previously “narrow view” of the term “sex discrimination” had been “eviscerated” by Price Waterhouse. 

The 6th Circuit affirmed its own interpretation of Title VII just one year later in a March 2005 ruling in Barnes v. City of Cincinnati. 

It is paramount that the 6th Circuit find, consistent with its own precedent, that what happened here in this case is clear – a transgender woman was discriminated against because she is transgender. This discrimination is unlawful, and while religious freedom is important and already protected under the U.S. Constitution, this case is simply not an example of a person’s religious freedom being violated.

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