TODAY: 6th Circuit Considers Whether Employers Can Claim Religious Exemption to Employment Non-Discrimination Law

By Adam Polaski • October 4, 2017 • 9:31 am

Today, October 4, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio will consider oral argument in the case of EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, a case concerning employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The 6th Circuit has jurisdiction over Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

The case dates back to 2014, when Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman, claimed that her former employer, Harris Funeral Homes, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against her because of her gender identity. She filed a complaint with the EEOC, and the EEOC subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the employer.

In the 6th Circuit, positive case law has already found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on gender identity. However, after losing a motion to dismiss, defendants in the case argued that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the funeral home’s decision to fire Aimee Stephens, despite the fact that the funeral home is not affiliated with any religious entity.

In an unprecedented and shameful ruling in August 2016, a federal judge agreed with the defendants. This effort to seek a religious exemption from Title VII under the federal RFRA is what is being considered today by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Aimee Stephens is represented by the ACLU. The EEOC is leading litigation against the funeral home.

A ruling is expected at any time in the next several weeks and months.


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