‘Ground-Breaking’ Ruling Says Transgender Discrimination Is Covered by Title VII

from tlnt.com by Denise M. Visconti March 28, 2018

‘Ground-Breaking’ Ruling Says Transgender Discrimination Is Covered by Title VII

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently ruled, in what many have described as a ground-breaking decision, that discrimination based on an employee’s transgender status is discrimination based on “sex” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made such a determination in 2012, the Sixth Circuit is the first such federal appellate court to so rule.


R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home is a closely held for-profit corporation that is 95.4% owned by Thomas Rost. The funeral home itself is not and has never been affiliated with a church. The funeral home does not claim to have a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation, is open on Christian holidays, and serves clients of all faiths. Nevertheless, Rost – a Christian who regularly attends church – proclaimed “God… called him to serve grieving people,” and that his “purpose in life [was] to minister to the grieving.”

With regard to its employees, the funeral home maintained a gender-specific dress code. Pursuant to that dress code, men were required to wear dark, conservatively-styled suits with white shirts. Women were required to similarly dress conservatively in a suit or plain dress. Men who interfaced with the public were required to wear business suits and neck ties; women were required to wear a skirt and business jacket. The funeral home provided free suits and ties to all male employees who interacted with clients, and replaced those suits as needed (a $470 value), but did not provide its female employees with any clothing or clothing allowance.Plaintiff Aimee Stephens began working for the funeral home on October 1, 2007. At the time she was hired, Stephens presented as male and provided identification consistent with her then-legal name. In July 2013, Stephens informed the owner she intended to begin living and working as a woman. Specifically, she told him that when she returned from her vacation in August 2013, she would begin presenting as Aimee Australia Stephens, her “true self,” by wearing appropriate professional attire. Stephens worked for two more weeks and, just before she left for her vacation, the owner fired her.

EEOC complaint

Stephens filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging she was discriminated against based on her sex. According to her complaint, the only explanation she received for her termination was that “the public would [not] be accepting of [her] transition.”

Appeals reinstates transgender claim

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit – which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee – reviewed the district court’s decision in its entirety. With regard to Stephens’ wrongful termination claim, the Sixth Circuit found the district court correctly determined Stephens was terminated by the funeral home based on her failure to conform to sex stereotypes in violation of Title VII.