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R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, related to whether discrimination on the basis of gender identity is covered by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Oral arguments were heard on October 8, 2019.

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued October 8, 2019
Full case nameR.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al.
Docket no.18-107
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
PriorMotion to dismiss denied, 100 F. Supp. 3d 594 (E.D. Mich. 2015); summary judgment granted, 201 F. Supp. 3d 837 (E.D. Mich. 2016); reversed, 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018); cert. granted, 203 L. Ed. 2d 754 (2019).
Questions presented
Whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on (1) their status as transgender or (2) sex stereotyping under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh

Case backgroundEdit

Aimee Stephens considered herself a transgender woman for most of her adult life but presented herself as a male, which caused her constant emotional stress.[1] In 2013, she decided to come out to family and friends, and arranged to undergo reassignment surgery within the next year, expressing herself as a woman prior to transition as part of real-life experience. At that time, she had been an employee of R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes for six years, and had an excellent work record. She wrote her supervisor regarding this matter prior to taking a vacation from work, and as to help with the transition, she would return to work in attire appropriate for female employees as outlined in their employee handbook. Two weeks later, Stephens was notified by mail that she had been terminated by the funeral home's owner Thomas Rost. They attempted to mediate an amicable departure, with Rost offering Stephens a severance package, but she refused to take it.[2]

Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), believing she had been discriminated against due to being transgender.[2] EEOC agreed and took the case against the funeral home to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. There in 2016, the district court found for the funeral home on two bases: first, that in Title VII neither transgender persons nor gender identity were protected classes, and second, that because Rost was a devout Christian who does not accept that one can change one's gender, and ran the homes under his religion, that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act gave him the ability to fire Stephens if she would not conform.[3][2]

The EEOC appealed to the Sixth Circuit. In March 2018, the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision, ruling that Title's VII "discrimination by sex" does include transgender persons.[4] The court also considered that the funeral home had failed to show how the Civil Rights Act burdened Rost from expressing his religion freedom.[5] Part of the Sixth's decision rested on the 1989 case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins which states that employers cannot discriminate against employees for failure to conform to the stereotypical behavior of a man or woman. The case revolves around protections relating to public and private employees from being discriminated upon because of sex, and whether this applies to members of the LGBT community.[1]

Supreme CourtEdit

The funeral home, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, asking the Court to hear the case.[1] There has been a circuit split on the issue of whether Title VII protects employees from employment discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity. The Second Circuit in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. and the Seventh Circuit in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College found that the Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; the Eleventh Circuit in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia came to the opposite conclusion.[6]

The Court granted the cert petition (agreeing to hear the appeal) for Harris Funeral Homes in April 2019, alongside a pair of cases consolidated under Bostock which raised the same question related to Title VII discrimination against sexual orientation. Harris and these cases were heard on October 8, 2019.[7][8] In oral arguments, the Court's conservative Justices argued that because Congress had not included gender identity at the time of the Civil Rights Act and had not updated the law to include it, the Court should not create new law beyond Congress's intentions. Arguments also centered on how the word "sex" in Title VII could be interpreted to include transgender individuals.[9]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c CNN, Emanuella Grinberg. "She came out as transgender and got fired. Now her case might become a test for LGBTQ rights at the US Supreme Court". CNN. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Transgender embalmer's lawsuit thrown out after funeral home fired her". Washington Post. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  3. ^ Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc., 201 F. Supp. 3d 837 (E.D. Mich. 2016).
  4. ^ Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc., 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018).
  5. ^ "U.S. appeals court says civil rights law covers transgender workers". Reuters. March 7, 2018. Retrieved April 22, 2019 – via www.reuters.com.
  6. ^ Stephanie Francis Ward, SCOTUS will consider sexual orientation, transgender discrimination under Title VII, ABA Journal (April 22, 2019).
  7. ^ Liptak, Adam (April 22, 2019). "Supreme Court to Decide Whether Bias Law Covers Gay and Transgender Workers". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  8. ^ Rushe, Dominic (September 30, 2019). "'There is no protection': case of trans woman fired after coming out could make history". The Guardian. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  9. ^ Higgens, Tucker (October 8, 2019). "Supreme Court clashes over meaning of 'sex' in LGBT discrimination cases". CNBC. Retrieved October 8, 2019.