Appeals Court Rules Sex Discrimination Includes Bias Against Transgender People

"Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal."

An appeals court ruled today that federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of gender also cover bias against transgender employees. Aimee Stephens claimed R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit fired her after she disclosed her intention to transition.

Stephens claim was supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit in 2017.

In today’s ruling, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the funeral home unlawfully discriminated against Stephens. It also said the company, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, failed to establish Title VII of the Civil Rights Act robbed owner Thomas Rost of his religious freedom.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote. “The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”

The case is the latest to weigh in on whether Title VII relates to gender identity and sexual orientation, something the Department of Justice has fought under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In Zarda v. Altitude Express, in which a skydiver alleged he was fired after telling a client he was gay, the Justice Department filed an unsolicited amicus brief insisting Title VII didn’t cover sexual orientation.

Last month, the court ruled for the plaintiff, writing that “sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination.”

But in March 2017, a circuit court ruled against Jameka Evans, a security guard who claimed she was fired from a hospital because she was a masculine-presenting lesbian. The judges determined that Title VII does not prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexuality.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery