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EEOC Brings Transgender Discrimination Claims in Sixth Circuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in the Sixth Circuit challenging the termination of a funeral home employee who was biologically male but transitioning to female. He claims he was unlawfully terminated on the basis of his sex. The funeral home argued that requiring it to retain a transgender employee constituted a substantial burden on the funeral home owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs.


Circumstances Surrounding the Transgender Employee’s Termination


The employee, in this case, was born a male and when he was hired he lived and presented himself as a man. He worked as a funeral director at a for-profit funeral home. According to the complaint, he was terminated after he notified his employer that he was transitioning to female and started presenting himself as a woman. This included dressing as a woman while at work.
During the investigation by the EEOC, it was discovered that the funeral home provided clothing for its male employees who worked with the public but did not make the same provisions for female employees. Consequently, the employee would lose this benefit when he transitioned to female.


Discrimination Claims Brought by the EEOC


The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that the funeral home violated Title VII by terminating the employee’s employment based on his status as transgender or transitioning and his refusal to conform to stereotypes based on sex. The EEOC also alleged that its clothing allowance policy was discriminatory based on sex.


The funeral home refuted the claims, arguing that its requirement that Plaintiff complies with its gender-based dress code resulted in the same burden on both male and female employees. The funeral home also argued that it should not be required to employ a man who dresses and represents himself as a woman because of the funeral home owner’s religious beliefs.


Court of Appeals Reverses Trials Court’s Dismissal of Claims


Despite the fact that the federal district court granted summary judgment dismissing the employee’s claims, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision. Instead, the appellate court determined that the employee’s termination constituted unlawful discrimination based on sex and there was no evidence that the funeral home owner’s right to exercise their religious beliefs were being unduly burdened.


For transgender employees who believe they have been the victim of workplace discrimination, especially those who live in a state that does not have a specific law protecting them from such discrimination, it is very important to consult with an employment law attorney who is familiar with this area of the law, and can suggest possible theories to pursue, based on your situation.


If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!