After Losing in Court, Michigan Funeral Home Now Claims Religion Justifies Firing Transgender Woman

For decades transgender people have been fired or turned away from jobs just because of who they are. Courts and federal agencies are finally starting to recognize this for what it is — illegal sex discrimination — and they’re holding employers accountable.

But now, a Michigan funeral home is trying to turn back the clock by claiming that this country’s religious freedom protections give it a license to discriminate against transgender employees. As we explain in our recently filed friend-of-the-court brief, religious freedom doesn’t give employers a free pass to evade our civil rights laws, whether those laws are being used to remedy discrimination against women, people of color, or transgender individuals.

Aimee Stephens had worked for nearly six years as a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes when she informed the funeral home’s owner that she is a transgender woman and planned to start dressing in appropriate business attire for a woman. She asked for understanding and support. The owner fired her two weeks later, explaining that it would be "unacceptable" for her to dress and present as the woman she is. After learning what happened to Aimee, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the funeral home for sex discrimination.

At first, the funeral home tried to argue that transgender people aren’t protected under federal workplace antidiscrimination laws. They raised this argument because we don’t have a federal law, nor in most states do we have a state law, that explicitly prohibits employment discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or transgender status. As a result, people in 30 states can be fired or denied a job just because they are transgender, without recourse to a law that explicitly prohibits such discrimination.

Fortunately, a number of federal courts and the EEOC have recognized that the federal law against sex discrimination in employment protects transgender people. In Aimee’s case, the court held that her employer can’t discriminate against her for dressing consistently with her gender identity.

After losing its motion to dismiss the case, the funeral home raised religion defenses under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The funeral home isn’t affiliated with any church; its articles of incorporation don’t mention any religious purpose; and it employs and offers services to people of all faiths and no faith. In fact, the EEOC observed that the funeral home “gave no indication that its religious beliefs were being violated until litigation had been underway for nearly eight and a half months.” Now, however, the owner claims that having to employ transgender people would impermissibly infringe his business’s religious exercise.

As we pointed out in our brief, these arguments aren’t new. In the 1960s, business owners objected to civil rights laws integrating restaurants and other public accommodations because they sincerely believed that God wanted the races to be separate. Later, religiously affiliated universities prohibited students from engaging in interracial dating, because their religious beliefs opposed interracial relationships. And employers insisted that they should be allowed to pay women less, because they had a sincere religious belief that men should be the primary breadwinners. In those cases, we recognized that requiring integration and equal pay were not attacks on religious freedom, but necessary measures to ensure a fair society for everyone.

The same is true here. Our country has a long and painful history of sex discrimination directed at transgender people. According to one study of anti-trans violence, between 25 and 50 percent of transgender people have been victims of physical attacks because of their transgender status. And, in a recent national survey of transgender people, more than a quarter of participants reported that they had lost jobs because of their transgender status, and nearly half reported experiencing some form of workplace discrimination.

The states should be preventing this kind of discrimination, but they often encourage it instead. In the last several months, we’ve seen a whole slew of bills and ballot measures encouraging or even requiring discrimination against transgender people, such as North Carolina’s HB2. And we’ve seen other bills allowing religion to be used to discriminate against transgender people, as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, such as Mississippi’s HB 1523. With several states in thrall to these hateful measures, we have to make sure that transgender people enjoy the full protection of federal antidiscrimination law. That’s why Aimee’s case is so important.

Religious freedom in America gives everyone the right to their religious beliefs, but it doesn’t give employers a license to discriminate against their employees. As courts have recognized for many years, civil rights protections are much too important to allow employers to use religion to evade them. That is especially true here, where the state laws and policies applicable to transgender people have been going from bad to worse.

We hope the court agrees. 

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Emily

Yet another misinterpretation of religious freedom protections by a group of bigots... and yet we trans folks are supposedly the real threat. Get real.

Cadence Jean

Thank you for fighting the good fight!!

Anonymous

I have nothing but sympathy for this funeral home. At a time when a family is grieving the last thing they want to see is some guy parading his fetish about and/or indulging his mental delusion. And they will be the ones to lose business and customers. Unfortunately, the way the law is going on this, I am afraid that their only remedy is going to be to have a strict dress code that applies to both genders. A uniform of slacks and a shirt. Short hair or hair pulled back. No make up. No jewelry but a watch and a ring.

Anonymous

You are a bigoted, uninformed and narrow-minded individual. Sympathy for this funeral home, are you kidding???

Anonymous for totay

id like for you to do more research on the transgender subject before making any statements on subjects that you possibly dont understand, also understand the impact that this is making to a hole group of people in our nation, i agree that for a establishment such as a funeral home should probably have a unified uniform just to enforce a sense of official and formal presentation, but risking the implantation of a law that allows one to be fired over something out of there control can be harmful because it promotes discrimination based in belief.

also to inform you recently study show that transgender is not a disorder , similar to how homosexuality is not.
please realize that peoples living is at stake and i do not see a reason to promote discrimination of any means and i hope you have read this or someone with your mindset has because your vote can be the difference in the future. thank you

Anonymous

About me-I'm not religious, though I did go to Christian schools when as a boy (1970s)as we had immigrated to in 1972 & my parents believed Christian schools would give better education. Turns out 1 of the priests @ our school was a gay pedofile, which was in earlier post. I am not religious because among other things, if there's a God, then why do bad things happen in world I don't care about the gay/lesbian marriage topic which law allows and admit information war by my side was lost on homosexuality, when topic mainly became about the boring gay marriage topic and only once in a while about homosexuality's risks. Truth about homosexuality's dangers don't change and truth must be told though information war is lost. Homosexual/lesbian conduct is bad for health like tobacco & needs to be treated like tobacco use by adults. If willing & knowing adults want to use tobacco or do gay/lesbian conduct, then that's their life, but it must be treated as harmful like tobacco is. I know what APA, mainstream psychologists & psychiatrists say about gay/lesbian conduct, but they are ideologues. I think that they must make it a crime to do sex changes.

I have thought about this & don't think any1 can rebut conclusion that childhood sex abuse victims of gay/lesbian pedophiles have more risk of turning out gay/lesbian by copying the conduct they learned because think you know that conduct incl. sexual conduct can be learned. Think you know it is possible for people who are victims of same sex molestation (such as victims of gay pedophile priests) to copy this sexual conduct and do gay conduct in adulthood incl. turn out to be gay pedophiles.

Anonymous

I don’t know why people defend a useless dangerous conduct such as homosexual/lesbian conduct & I don’t know the apologism for transexuality which is surgically mutilating people with dangerous hormones to make them fake opposite sex members & they should make that illegal.

Main ideas of science and math are always the same (such as freezing temperature is 32 Degrees Fahrenheit & lower, 2+2=4) and with main ideas of science, unless new information is found which changes prior conclusion (such as in 1950s when they found a whale is a mammal not a fish as scientists first thought), the main ideas of science stay the same. I do not believe mainstream science/psychology in the 1960s to early 70s discovered anything new to change long held conclusions on homosexuality when they removed homosexuality from DSM in 1973. They have as said since 1973 become ideological on gay/lesbian topic. I don’t deny possibility homosexuality could be genetic or inborn for some but that is unproven. Even if it’s true that homosexuality is inborn for some people, homosexual/lesbian conduct would still be bad for health.

Homofobia is telling truths, theories and speculations which offend homosexual groups. While they have not conclusively proven homosexuality/lesbianism is inborn genes, homosexual groups often use this theory as definite by saying how they are born this way-which possibly can be the case for some but more studies are needed. But when facts are raised about the link between childhood sex abuse and a kid doing homosexual and lesbian activities in adutlhood, homosexual groups often get offended, condemn it as homofobia.

With homosexuality being found among animals, cannibalism, stealing, etc. are also found among them, so it’s a bad idea to say that because animals do something people do. It’s best for gays/lesbians to be celibate until cure is found for this. No gays, don’t choose orientation, but they choose their sexual behavior.

Any facts which show homosexuality/lesbianism to be bad and put negative views on this is condemned. Homosexual/lesbian conduct is bad for health as smoking is and needs to be marginalized like smoking is. People who engage in homosexual/lesbian conduct have more medical problems caused by homosexual/lesbian conduct. I believe the negative views of homosexual/lesbian conduct is the right view because there is something wrong with homosexual/lesbian conduct and they must make it a crime to do sex changes. I know my view offends homosexuals, but most smokers do not get offended by negative views of tobacco use. So homosexuals/lesbians have to hear others give negative views of their sex lives, because there is something wrong with this just as there’s something wrong with smoking.

Yes, it’s a proven fact that childhood sex abuse is a major cause of homosexual/lesbian conduct in adulthood. Anybody who denies the link is dishonest, delusional or both. Never have I heard straights blame childhood sex abuse for reasons a man has sex with a woman and fathers children with her. Yet sometimes have heard gays and lesbians say childhood sex abuse is reason they do same sex behaviors.Any conduct can be learned and this includes sexual conduct. There are homosexuals and lesbians who say that childhood sex abuse (especially those who are victims of a gay priest) are reasons why they think they do same sex behaviors in adulthood. Had they not been repeatedly molested, would they have turned out straight instead of gay or lesbian? It doesn’t take an expert to know that sex abuse in youth can mess up the mind and cause people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. Of course, not all who are sexually abused in youth become gay in adulthood-but the risk is higher.

A kid can become a mugger by living in high crime neighborhood, seeing muggings in childhood and learning this conduct. Yes, there are muggers who were not raised in high crime neighborhoods but still became muggers, but that does not rule out other causes. Many emphysema victims did not smoke and were not exposed to 2nd hand smoke and got emphysema due to bad genes but it would be dishonest to deny truth that if a person smokes, he or she is more likely to get emphysema. Since homosexuals and lesbians (transexuals) often suffered childhood sex abuse, it’s no surprise that homosexuals and lesbians think childhood sexual abuse is OK when it’s homosexual activities.

Anonymous

I am not religious because among other things, if there's a God, then why do bad things happen in world I don't care about the gay/lesbian marriage topic which law allows and admit information war by my side was lost on homosexuality, when topic mainly became about the boring gay marriage topic and only once in a while about homosexuality's risks. Truth about homosexuality's dangers don't change and truth must be told though information war is lost. Homosexual/lesbian conduct is bad for health like tobacco & needs to be treated like tobacco use by adults. If willing & knowing adults want to use tobacco or do gay/lesbian conduct, then that's their life, but it must be treated as harmful like tobacco is. I know what APA, mainstream psychologists & psychiatrists say about gay/lesbian conduct, but they are ideologues. I think that they must make it a crime to do sex changes.

I have thought about this & don't think any1 can rebut conclusion that childhood sex abuse victims of gay/lesbian pedophiles have more risk of turning out gay/lesbian by copying the conduct they learned because think you know that conduct incl. sexual conduct can be learned. Think you know it is possible for people who are victims of same sex molestation (such as victims of gay pedophile priests) to copy this sexual conduct and do gay conduct in adulthood incl. turn out to be gay pedophiles.

Diane

1). You're confused. Gay and transverse are two completely different things. You might want to research it.

2). Homosexuality was removed from the DSM because research showed it was not a mental illness. You might want to look into it. Google Evelyn Booker and start there.

3). Being trans was removed from the DSM because objective analysis of the data proved it was not a mentel illness. You might want to research this.

4). I can see you believe very strongly in what you say and I respect that. However, objective facts do not support your "deeply held" beliefs. Laws should be based on facts, not what people believe, and you have apparently just accepted what "everyone knows" instead of what is actually true. Before you again advocate policies that destroy other people's lives you might want to look into that.

Anonymous

For the funeral home? Really? Seriously? Do you and your kind only come out from under the bridge at night or can you stand actual daylight?

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