By Sahid Fawaz
The Trump Administration’s assault on transgender workers’ rights was shot down by a federal appeals court.
“Employers are moving to adopt or strengthen policies to prevent bias against transgender people after the latest in a series of court rulings that have extended protections for an increasingly diverse work force.
A federal appeals court, rejecting the position of the Trump administration, ruled this month that transgender people are protected by a civil rights law that bans workplace discrimination based on sex.
Lawyers who specialize in employment cases said that the decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, was highly significant. The court held that job discrimination on the basis of transgender status was inherently sex discrimination, and that the employer in this case could not claim an exemption from the law because of his religious beliefs.
The case was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent federal agency, on behalf of a funeral director who had been fired by a Michigan funeral home after informing the owner that she intended to transition from male to female and would dress as a woman while at work.
Job discrimination based on a person’s transgender status violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court ruled. Under the law, it said, ‘gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.’
The court’s conclusion is at odds with a position taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October. In a memorandum to Justice Department lawyers, he said that “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”
The funeral home maintained that it did not violate federal law by requiring the employee to comply with a sex-specific dress code. Moreover, the owner of the home, Thomas Rost, who has been a Christian for more than 65 years, said that forcing him to employ the transgender worker would impose a substantial burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs and would therefore violate another law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
The court disagreed, saying that employees may not be discriminated against because they fail to conform to ‘stereotypical gender norms’ — in this case, an employer’s notion of ‘how biologically male persons should dress, appear, behave and identify.’
Discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination, said the decision, written by Judge Karen Nelson Moore for a unanimous three-judge panel, because “an employer cannot discriminate against an employee for being transgender without considering that employee’s biological sex.”
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