Huge transgender case will be heard by Supreme Court in October

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on a major case on sex, gender, identity, and discrimination in October.  It is titled R.G. and Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The nub of the case is as follows: Aimee Stephens worked for over five years as a funeral director at the R.G and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes.  Stephens is a male but in 2013 claimed he is a woman and started surgeries to make himself look like a woman the next year.  When Stephens informed the funeral home owner Thomas Rost about this, he fired Stephens.

Rost tried to work out an amicable separation, including a severance package, but Stephens refused.  Stephens made a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that he had been discriminated against for being transgender.  The EEOC took the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 2016. 

Rost's defense was twofold.  First, neither transgender persons nor gender identity were protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Second, Mr. Rost is a devout Christian and ran his funeral homes in accordance with his religious beliefs.  Rost does not believe that a person can change his sex, surgeries notwithstanding.  The district court found that Rost could fire Stephens under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The EEOC appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and in 2018, the initial decision was reversed.  The enlightened judges there ruled that discrimination by sex does include transgender persons, and having a transgender working as a funeral director does not affect Mr. Rost's religious freedom..

Rost appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where the case is now.  Stephens is being represented by the ACLU.

Aimee Stephens today.

This case is shaping up to be a significant one that could have wide repercussions.  It pits religious freedom and a clear reading of Title VII against an expanded view of the Civil Rights Act.  In a sane world, if the LGBTQ community wanted transgenders designated as a protected class under Title VII, they would have to work to get Congress to pass such legislation rather than relying on judges to twist the meaning of the law into something it was never meant to be. 

When this case is settled, it will almost assuredly be a 5-4 decision.  With Chief Justice Roberts in the mix, it is far from certain which side will have the five votes.

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