Federal court: Transgender workers are protected by Title VII

A federal court recently ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects transgender workers from discrimination.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a significant ruling concerning transgender employment rights. As Slate reports, the court ruled that transgender employees are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, gender, race, and other grounds. The court also ruled that religious liberty cannot be used as a defense for discriminating against transgender employees. While the ruling does not apply to the entire country, it is expected to have a major influence on federal courts throughout the U.S.

Transgender employees covered by Title VII

The case concerned a Michigan funeral home employee who was fired from her job after telling her boss that she intended to transition from a man to a woman. The funeral director claimed that allowing the employee to keep working at the funeral home would violate his Christian beliefs. He claimed that forcing him to keep a transgender woman on his workforce would also violate federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The court, however, disagreed. It ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans gender stereotyping, meaning that the funeral director could not force the employee to dress in a way that conformed to gender stereotypes. Furthermore, it held that discriminating against transgender employees was inherently sex discrimination. As the New York Times reports, the ruling also severely limits the extent to which the Religious Freedom Restoration Act can be used to justify discrimination against transgender or other employees.

Influence on other courts

The Sixth Circuit only covers four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee and the ruling is only binding in those states. However, as a federal court, the Sixth Circuit's decisions have a major influence on courts throughout the country. While extending Title VII protections was opposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act in the workplace.

While the ruling is a win for transgender rights activists, it is not clear whether it will be appealed to the Supreme Court. A number of legal analysts have already noted that a number of justices on the nation's top court may be less open to extending Title VII protections to transgender employees, largely due to the fact that Congress likely did not consider transgender people when it originally passed the Civil Rights Act.

Help for employees facing discrimination

For employees that are dealing with discrimination, whether it is because of their race, gender, religion, disability, or national origin, should contact an employment law attorney as soon as possible. Protections exist to help employees fight against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and an attorney can help those employees ensure their rights are enforced and respected.