Federal court: male funeral director can’t be fired for dressing as a woman
GARDEN CITY, Michigan, March 8, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) ― A federal court has ruled that a male funeral director who was fired after announcing his intention to dress as a woman while performing his duties at a Christian funeral home was the victim of “gender identity” discrimination.
A three-judge panel rejected the idea that a male funeral director dressing as a woman would be a distraction for loved ones of deceased persons utilizing the professional services of the Christian funeral home, asserting that the idea is “premised on presumed biases.”
The funeral home is Michigan’s R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home. The male employee who wishes to dress as a woman goes by “Aimee Stephens.”
Cross-dressing not sensitive to grieving families
The court rejected not only the funeral home owner’s assertion that a high level of propriety is necessary to conduct business, but also his appeals to faith and conscience.
These were dismissed as nothing more than “stereotypical notions” about how a person’s sexual organs determine whether he or she is man or a woman.
“This to me seems like interference in a business’s need to present a good face to the public,” commented one small business owner familiar with the case, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Only a small segment of people would want to have a man dressed as a woman conducting services at a funeral home or cemetery.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – the attorneys who have represented the funeral home since this case began winding its way through the courts – explained in a 2016 statement:
The former employee who filed a complaint with the EEOC was at all times free to dress as desired outside of work, but was required, as all other employees are, to abide by the dress policy while on the job.
The funeral home hired the biologically male employee as a funeral director and embalmer at its Garden City location in 2007. Funeral directors at the company regularly interact with the public, including grieving family members and friends. After informing [funeral home owner] Rost of an intention to begin dressing as a female at work, the employee was dismissed for refusing to comply with the dress code.
Not only would Rost be violating his faith if he were to pay for and otherwise permit his employees to dress as members of the opposite sex while at work, ADF attorneys explain, but the employee dress policy is also designed to be sensitive to interaction with customers at an especially delicate time of their lives.
The statement also noted:
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes has locations in Detroit, Garden City, and Livonia. Preferred Funeral Directors International awarded it the Parker Award in 2011 for demonstrating exemplary service, and the Livonia location was voted “best hometown funeral home” just last month. The company’s sole corporate officer and majority owner, Thomas Rost, is a devout Christian whose faith informs the way he operates his business and how he presents it to the public.
U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, said in the 49-page unanimous opinion issued by the court that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes “engaged in unlawful discrimination” against Stephens under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964.
“Simply permitting Stephens to wear attire that reflects a conception of gender that is at odds with Rost’s religious beliefs is not a substantial burden under RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” wrote Moore.“We hold that, as a matter of law, tolerating Stephens’s understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it.”
“An employer cannot discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align,” she continued. “There is no way to disaggregate discrimination on the basis of transgender status from discrimination on the basis of gender non-conformity, and we see no reason to try.”
“The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex, and therefore the EEOC is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim,” Moore wrote.
Gary McCaleb, senior counsel at ADF, said the decision “misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming policies.”
“Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law,” he said. “This opinion instead rewrites federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts.”