6th Circuit Rules Discrimination Violates Civil Rights Act

Funeral home case is latest in federal appellate shift toward broadening Title VII protections

The 6th Circuit on March 7 ruled that discrimination against transgender employees is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Colorado’s own antidiscrimination statute protects transgender employees from discrimination. But for companies with employees in other states, the federal appeals landscape continues its shift of extending Title VII protections to LGBT workers.

In recent years, federal courts have been revisiting whether Title VII protects lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender workers, mainly under the statute’s “sex-based” discrimination category. Part of that is driven by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s push to file Title VII claims for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As some of the cases have risen to the federal circuit courts of appeals, appellate panels so far are largely siding with the EEOC’s broader interpretation of Title VII. In the most recent decision of this kind, Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., the 6th Circuit held, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The 6th Circuit covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Aimee Stephens was born biologically male and presented as a man when R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, a private company in Michigan, hired her as a funeral director. Shortly after she told the owner that she planned to transition to a woman, the owner fired her. She then filed a charge with the EEOC.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 26, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online