In Unprecedented Distortion, Judge Cites Federal RFRA to Permit Employment Discrimination

By Adam Polaski • August 19, 2016 • 9:02 am

On Thursday, August 18, U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox in Michigan ruled that a Detroit-area funeral home was in the clear for firing a transgender employee, because the funeral home’s discriminatory actions were protected under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman in Michigan, lost her job at RG & GR Funeral Homes in 2013, just weeks after informing her bosses that she was transitioning from male to female.


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.

Going down this path puts many Americans at heightened risk of discrimination – including single moms, unmarried couples, LGBT people, religious minorities and many more.

While this extreme ruling is dangerous, it’s important to understand that the decision is an outlier, and we anticipate it will be reversed in the future. The many pieces of litigation moving through the courts right now underscores a critical need to ensure that transgender protections are permanently codified into state and federal law. Protection from discrimination is too foundational and important a value to leave to the discretion of individual judges or jurisdictions. That’s why Freedom for All Americans is working at the state level to continue building up LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections statewide.

It is significant that the decision today came in a case of a transgender woman who was fired for being who she is. This latest decision comes just months after myriad anti-transgender bills cropped up in state legislatures across the country. It is more vital than ever that we continue our movement’s work to share the stories of transgender Americans and make the concrete, confident case that no one should face discrimination for living their life.

Check out the entire, distorted opinion at Equality Case Files here.

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