A Federal Court Just Made a Big Decision About Transgender Rights

Wednesday’s ruling is a win for transgender employees.

Vincent Yu/Associated Press

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

In a landmark decision on Wednesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against transgender workers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

Sharon McGowan, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, a LGBT-rights advocacy group, told Buzzfeed that the decision adds to “the overwhelming consensus” of the judiciary that LGBT people are protected under the law, despite the Trump’s administration’s insistence that they are not. “The significance of this decision is hard to overstate,” McGowan said.

The case, Equal Employment Opportunity v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman. According to the ruling, Stephens worked at Harris Funeral Homes “while living and presenting as a man.” When she informed her boss, Thomas Rost, of her intention to transition from male to female, Rost fired her. Stephens then filed a complaint with the EEOC.

According to the lawsuit, Stephens’s firing amounted to unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII—a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex [or] national origin.” The Funeral Home argued that Title VII should not be enforced in this case, because doing so would “constitute an unjustified substantial burden upon Rost’s (and thereby the Funeral Home’s) sincerely held religious beliefs, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

This is the first time, according to Reuters, that the court has considered a religious defense in a case on unlawful sex bias. The ACLU told Buzzfeed that the decision therefore sets an “important precedent” and “ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no ‘right to discriminate’ in the workplace.”

The case will now return to a lower district court for “further proceedings.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate