In a case that pitted religious freedom against gender expression, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender funeral director who was fired from her job because of her gender expression. She disclosed her intent to transition to her bosses, who then fired her, the complaint said.
The court determined that a failure to conform to gender stereotypes was not a legal reason to terminate employment and is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The decision by the court was unanimous.
The appeals court overturned a verdict that was originally in favor of the funeral home. In order for the funeral home to win a lawsuit such as this, they must be able to show that keeping the employee would pose a substantial burden to its ability to conduct business. The funeral home’s owners said that they had strict religious beliefs. The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC.
Religious Freedom and Gender Identity
In essence, this lawsuit came down to the question of the free exercise of an individual’s religious beliefs versus the protections afforded to individuals under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) protects individuals that are being prevented from freely exercising their religion. The court ruled that the owner was not substantially burdened in the free exercise of his religion. The court also ruled, controversially, that the government’s interest in protecting employees from sex or gender discrimination outweighed its interest protecting discrimination on religious grounds.
The court determined that even if the owner’s free religious exercise was substantially burdened, it would still find in favor of the plaintiff in this instance.
EEOC Finds Another Instance of Gender Discrimination
The EEOC’s investigation into this matter uncovered another instance of gender discrimination by the funeral home. The funeral home was outfitting male employees who dealt directly with mourners clothing paid for by the company. Female employees, on the other hand, were expected to outfit themselves in order to conform with the company’s dress code. The EEOC found this policy to be discriminatory.
Transgender Protections in Missouri
Missouri courts, in strict compliance with the Missouri Human Rights Act, have routinely decided that gender expression is not protected under Missouri law. Whether or not a transgender individual could win a case on the grounds of discrimination against an employer remains unclear.
Federal courts have routinely decided in favor of transgender litigants in employment discrimination cases. They have also determined that religious freedom does not give an employer the “right to discriminate.”
As cases such as these gain more attention in the media and become more frequent, Missouri will be forced to clarify its position on transgender individuals and their rights under Title VII. As of now, neither gender expression nor sexual orientation is protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Have You Been Discriminated Against by Your Employer?
You may be entitled to damages. If you have been unfairly discriminated against, call HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City at 816.607.4691, and we will begin discussing your case right away.