A Federal Court Just Made a Big Decision About Transgender Rights

Wednesday’s ruling is a win for transgender employees.

Vincent Yu/Associated Press

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones 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.”

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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