A three-judge panel on a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled Wednesday the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t allow employers to engage in anti-transgender employment discrimination.Writing the 49-page unanimous opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, a Clinton appointee, determined R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan “engaged in unlawful discrimination” against transgender employee Aimee Stephens under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964.
“The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex, and therefore the EEOC is entitled to summary judgment as to its unlawful-termination claim,” Moore writes. “RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC has shown that enforcing Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination.”
The decision remands the case back to trial court, which conclude the funeral home did have leeway to terminate Stephens under RFRA, a 1993 law intended to protect religious minorities that requires the federal government to take the least restrictive path when infringing upon religious liberty.