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Court gives new protection to transgender workers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled for the first time that discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

For now, the decision only affects employers in states covered by the 6th Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

The case involved a Michigan funeral director who was born male. He informed his boss he was transitioning to female. The employer fired Aimee (formerly Anthony) and she sued, alleging she had been fired on account of her sex. The funeral home owner justified the firing, saying that employing transgender people violated his right to freedom of religion.

The 6th Circuit judges rejected that argument, writing that the termination was discrimination on the basis of gender nonconformity. It added, “We also hold that discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status violates Title VII.” An appeal to the full court is expected. (EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes, 6th Cir., 2018)

Bottom line: This ruling is significant for all employers, not just those in 6th Circuit states. Other federal courts hearing similar cases could apply the 6th Circuit’s reasoning. The most prudent approach for employers: Don’t allow discrimination based on transgender status.

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