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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Funeral Home Can't Bury EEOC Transgender Firing Suit

The EEOC defeated a motion to dismiss in EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Home, one of its first suits on behalf of trans employees brought last September. But the judge refused to recognize discrimination based on trans status, which is out of step with the EEOC's Macy decision.  Here is a brief summary of the decision from Law 360:

Law360, New York (April 22, 2015, 4:05 PM ET) -- A funeral home company must face one of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s first sex-discrimination cases over a transgender employee’s firing, but not because transgender status alone brings special legal protection, a Michigan federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Sean F. Cox refused to dismiss the EEOC’s complaint, finding the agency adequately alleged that RG & GR Harris Funeral Home Inc. engaged in illegal stereotyping when it fired funeral director and embalmer Amiee Stephens, a transgender woman. But the judge agreed with the company that transgender persons are not a protected group under Title VII, finding instead that transgender employees are “just like anyone else” in their right to sue employers over sex stereotypes.

According to the agency’s complaint, the funeral home fired Stephens after she said she was transitioning from male to female and would dress in women’s business attire. The judge said that based on this allegation, the EEOC could pursue its claim that Stephens lost her job for failing to conform to sex stereotypes, citing a 2004 Sixth Circuit decision in favor of a transgender employee.

“This Court concludes that, having alleged that Stephens’s failure to conform to sex stereotypes was the driving force behind the Funeral Home’s decision to fire Stephens, the EEOC has sufficiently pleaded a sex-stereotyping gender-discrimination claim under Title VII,” the opinion said.

Judge Cox also said, however, that the EEOC seemed to be asking him to rule that transgender persons are a protected class under Title VII. On that issue, he refused to take the agency's side.

“If the EEOC’s complaint had alleged that the Funeral Home fired Stephens based solely upon Stephens’s status as a transgender person, then this Court would agree with the Funeral Home that the EEOC’s complaint would fail to state a claim under Title VII,” the judge wrote. “That is because, like sexual orientation, transgender or transsexual status is currently not a protected class under Title VII.”


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