A decision this month by a Detroit federal court exemplifies the lack of protections for transgender people in the workplace, particularly if they live in a state without laws protecting them from discrimination by employers. Currently, 20 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have such legal protections. Michigan isn't one of them. Federal employment law, specifically Title VII, doesn't cover gender identity in the characteristics that are protected from discrimination.
Woman Was Fired After Informing Employers That She Was Transitioning
The case, which could set a national precedent, involves a funeral director who worked for a funeral home business from 2007 to 2013. When she told her employers that she was transitioning to a woman, they fired her, claiming that this violated their religious beliefs.
With the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she sued the company in 2014. Her former employers were represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona evangelical Christian group known for fighting transgender rights and marriage equality legislation.
"Staggering Implications" of Hobby Lobby Case
The judge ruled that since federal law doesn't offer specific protections against employment discrimination for transgender people, the woman's employers had the legal right to fire her. In his decision, he said the business had "met its initial burden of showing that enforcement of Title VII, and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely held religious beliefs."
If that reasoning sounds familiar, it may be because of the famous 2014 Hobby Lobby case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a company may not be required to adhere to a law if the owners of the company had a religious objection to it. An attorney for the ACLU said that this latest decision "represents the staggering implications" of the Hobby Lobby decision. On the other side, an attorney for ADF called it "a big victory for religious freedom."
While significant strides have been made in equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in recent years, LGBT Americans still face considerable vulnerability in the workplace, depending upon where they live. Legislation and court rulings, particularly the federal level, can bring about considerable change, which is just one reason why elections can have a significant impact on our lives. In the meantime, experienced employment discrimination attorneys can provide guidance and support to people who have been wrongly fired.
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