Law School Case Brief
EEOC v. R.G. - 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018)
Discrimination against transgender persons necessarily implicates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964's proscriptions against sex stereotyping. A transgender person is someone who fails to act and/or identify with his or her gender, i.e., someone who is inherently gender non-conforming. Thus, an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align. There is no way to disaggregate discrimination on the basis of transgender status from discrimination on the basis of gender non-conformity.
Aimee Stephens (formerly known as Anthony Stephens) was born biologically male. While living and presenting as a man, she worked as a funeral director at defendant R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. ("Funeral Home"), a closely held for-profit corporation that operated three funeral homes in Michigan. Stephens was terminated by the Funeral Home's owner and operator, Thomas Rost, shortly after Stephens informed Rost that she intended to transition from male to female and would represent herself and dress as a woman while at work. Stephens filed a complaint with plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which investigated Stephens's allegations that she had been terminated as a result of unlawful sex discrimination. The EEOC subsequently brought suit against the Funeral Home in which the EEOC charged it with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by (1) terminating Stephens' employment on the basis of her transgender or transitioning status and her refusal to conform to sex-based stereotypes; and (2) administering a discriminatory-clothing-allowance policy. The federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Funeral Home on both claims.
Did the Funeral Home violate Title VII when it fired Stephens for failing to conform to sex stereotypes?
The federal appellate court held that the EEOC was entitled to summary judgment on its unlawful termination charge because the Funeral Home violated Title VII when it fired Stephens for failing to conform to sex stereotypes, and it could pursue a Title VII claim on the ground that the Funeral Home discriminated against Stephens on the basis of her transgender status and transitioning identity. The court also held that enforcement of Title VII was not precluded because the Funeral Home did not qualify for the ministerial exception, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not substantially burden the owner's religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC had shown that enforcing Title VII was the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination.
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