Federal Court: Funeral Home Has To Bury Transgender Discrimination Six Feet Under
Rainbow hearse remains optional (but it's getting lots of business in England)
Hobby Lobby and its deeply held beliefs against paying for slut pills notwithstanding, a federal court decided yesterday that not all businesses can use religion as the basis for discrimination. In a Michigan case, a funeral home was told no, it can't fire a funeral director simply for being transgender, since that would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. No, not even if the funeral home says it has a "deeply held belief" that transgender folks oughtn't be making little steeples with their fingers, selling obscenely overpriced caskets, or referring to "the loved one" in an oddly sepulchral tone. (Yr Wonkette would never stereotype trans people, but we're perfectly fine with stereotyping funeral home workers. Such hypocrisy.)
The case involved R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., which had hired Aimee Stephens in 2007 when she presented as male. Stephens had an exemplary work record and eventually became a funeral director, but after six years at the Fun Home, announced plans to transition to female. At that, the owner, Thomas Rost, fired her. Rost had argued that under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the same law cited in the Hobby Lobby case, the funeral home wasn't subject to the growing body of legal precedent that transgender people are protected against discrimination, because like Hobby Lobby, it was Harris Funeral Homes' deeply held belief that employing a transgender person was not allowed by the Bible. (If you ask us, we think the absence of anyone named "Harris" here is also pretty fishy.)
The ruling comes even as Trumpland is trying to limit the interpretation of Title VII to exclude LGBT folks, although that may be too late already. The case had been brought by Stephens and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Judge Karen Nelson Moore, of the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, wasn't at all convinced that the employer's ability to exercise religion was affected by having a transgender employee. In her opinion, Nelson wrote that the lower district court, which had decided in favor of the funeral home, got it dead wrong:
The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex [...] RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC has shown that enforcing Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination.
As for the matter of the Fun Home's claim that allowing Stephens to do her job as a woman would harm Rost's deeply held religious beliefs, the opinion essentially said tough doody, you might be a place that hosts funeral services, but you're not a religious institution:
The Funeral Home itself, however, is not affiliated with a church; it does not claim to have a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation; it is open every day, including Christian holidays; and it serves clients of all faiths.
And a funeral director, whatever their gender, is just another working stiff, so settle down.
Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, which had fired a brief supporting Stephens, said the decision was especially welcome as the Trump-Pence administration tries to narrow LGBT rights and to "create safe havens for those who want to discriminate":
[This] decision makes clear that there is a compelling government interest in ending anti-LGBT discrimination [...] Employers and businesses do not get a free pass to discriminate simply by asserting a religious objection to the existence of transgender people.
Judge Moore sent the case back to the lower court, instructing it to reconsider its decision in light of the appeals court's ruling, which should certainly affect how the lower court considers the body of evidence.
Yr Wonkette is not a lawyer, but we worry that this case may not be gone for good, since the funeral home is represented by the rightwing Alliance Defending Freedom, founded by James Dobson, which pushed the Hobby Lobby case. They'll keep shambling forward with this case like the Litigating Dead. We wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we soon start hearing Tucker Carlson getting very upset about all this: "Before your Aunt Tillie goes into the ground, do you want a man in women's clothes embalming her? What is America coming to? Won't someone think of the corpses?"
[Buzzfeed / Image by Bramley's Independent Funeral Directors, Goldthorpe on Facebook]
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.