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Federal Court: Trans Workers Can’t Be Fired for Religious Reasons

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that transgender workers are protected by the federal law banning sex bias in the workplace, ruling in favor of a funeral director who was fired after telling her boss that she was going to transition from male to female. The court ruled that Aimee Stephens—formerly Anthony Stephens—was “unlawfully discriminated against” when she was dismissed from RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc. in Detroit. It also said the funeral home failed to prove that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “substantially burdened” owner Thomas Rost’s ability to exercise his religious rights. Rost, a devout Christian, argued that a transgender woman would “distract customers,” that buying work clothes for a transgender woman would violate his religious beliefs, and that he should not be held liable for discrimination under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—which “bars the government from burdening an individual’s religious practice.” The 6th Circuit was the first federal appeals court to “consider a religious defense” in a sex bias case.