DETROIT — A Christian-identified funeral home that fired a man who wanted to dress like a woman at work will now pay $130K to the man’s estate under a settlement now reached in light of June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal nondiscrimination law on the basis of “sex” includes “transgenders.”
The Detroit News reports that under a settlement approved by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes will pay $63,724 in back pay with interest and $66,276 in damages to the estate of plaintiff Anthony “Aimee” Stephens, who died last May following a battle with kidney disease.
It will also pay $120,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation, and the funeral home agreed under the settlement that it will not fire any transgender employees in the future.
The ACLU remarked in a statement on Wednesday that the ruling “will stretch far beyond this case.”
“The Biden administration must make it clear that across all areas of federal law sex discrimination protections apply to LGBTQ people and Congress must pass the Equality Act to close critical gaps in our civil rights laws that leave so many LGBTQ people, women, and many people of color vulnerable to discrimination,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.
As previously reported, the matter began in 2013, when Stephens, the funeral director and embalmer for Harris Funeral Homes, informed his employer that he had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and would therefore desire to wear a woman’s suit for work.
However, owner Thomas Rost, who serves on the board of directors for Salvation Army of Metro Detroit, has a company dress code in place, which states that males must wear dark suits and white shirts.
Because Stephens sought to wear female clothing, which is a violation of the dress code, and because Rost did not feel comfortable with providing a skirt suit due to his religious convictions, Stephens was let go.
He consequently took the matter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued Rost with the aid of the ACLU in alleging gender discrimination.
“R.G. employees understand that the dress code requires funeral directors to wear company-provided suits,” attorneys for Rost outlined in a legal brief. “Rost sincerely believes that he would be violating God’s commands if he were to pay for or otherwise permit one of RG’s funeral directors to wear the uniform for members of the opposite sex while at work.”
In August 2016, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox sided with the funeral home and dismissed the EEOC’s legal challenge.
“The court finds that the funeral home has met its initial burden of showing that enforcement of Title VII, and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely-held religious beliefs,” he wrote.
However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Cox’s ruling and overturned the decision the following year.
“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII. The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because [he] refused to abide by [his] employer’s stereotypical conception of [his] sex, and therefore the EEOC is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim,” wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore on behalf of the unanimous panel.
The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case and combined it with two similar legal challenges.
In June, the court ruled 6-3 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title VII, which bars job discrimination on the basis of sex, among other traits, may be read to include homosexual and “transgender” employees.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court.
However, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas called the decision a “brazen abuse of authority” and opined that it is “preposterous” for the court to claim that it only interpreted the statue rather than bypassed the legislature.
The two also expressed concern about what the ruling might mean for religious liberty from a variety of aspects — from the employment practices of churches, to the moral standards for workers at Christian schools, to the rights of doctors who decline to perform sex-change-related operations.
“Before issuing today’s radical decision, the court should have given some thought to where its decision would lead,” Alito said, worrying what might become of the issue of the use of locker rooms and restrooms by those who identify as the opposite sex, as well as the future of women’s sports and housing for college students, who might have to share sleeping quarters with someone who is really the same sex.
“As the briefing in these cases has warned, the position that the court now adopts will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety,” he lamented. “No one should think that the court’s decision represents an unalloyed victory for individual liberty.”
“Although the Court does not want to think about the consequences of its decision, we will not be able to avoid those issues for long. The entire Federal Judiciary will be mired for years in disputes about the reach of the court’s reasoning.”