Judge Rules Funeral Home Which Operates as a 'Ministry' Was Legally Entitled to Fire Transgender Employee
A federal judge has ruled a Michigan funeral home did not break the law when it fired a transgender woman two weeks after she told them in a letter she intended to transition.Â The funeral home operates as a "ministry," and claimed retaining the employee would have violated its "sincerely-held religious beliefs."
In his ruling U.S. District Judge Sean Cox (photo) stated point-blank: "Significantly, neither transgender status nor gender identity are protected classes under Title VII,"Â of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Cox based his decision on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby case, which ruled some small businesses that are privately owned to violate federal nondiscrimination laws when citing their "sincerely-held religious beliefs." Judge Cox ruled against the employee and the federal government'sÂ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in favor ofÂ RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc.
The funeral home "said it had a religious right to fire Stephens and that she was also biologically male and violated a dress code requiring men to wear suits," the AP reports, adding that Judge "Cox agreed on Thursday with Harris on both points. The company's owner, Thomas Rost, is a devout Christian whose life's work stems from his religious beliefs, including that shunning one's biological sex is an affront to God, the judge wrote."
The owner of Harris Funeral HomesÂ "admitsÂ that he fired" employee Amiee StephensÂ because she "intended to 'dress as a woman' while at work," Cox's ruling reads. Judge Cox added, asÂ The Detroit Free Press reportsÂ "that forcing the funeral home owner to do otherwise 'would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely-held religious beliefs.'"
"Rost operates the funeral home as a ministry to serve grieving families while they endure some of the most difficult and trying times in their lives," Cox sympathtically ruled.
Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund executive directorÂ Jillian Weiss warned that under Cox's ruling,Â "People could be forced to conform to outmoded masculine and feminine stereotypes in order to keep their jobs." The funeral home was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.
Judge Cox, a member of the right-wing Federalist Society was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2004 but was not confirmed for nearly to years due to objections of both of Michigan's Democratic U.S. Senators.
Image: Screenshot via YouTube