Thursday, August 18, 2016
District Court holds RFRA trumps Title VII in gender identity case
The District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a decision today on cross motions for summary judgment in EEOC v. R.G & G.R. Funeral Homes, Inc., granting summary judgment for the funeral home. The funeral home terminated an employee after that employee announced an intention to transition to female. The transwoman employee intended to abide by the the funeral home's dress code for women, which was that women wear skirt suits. Men were required to wear pantsuits (and if that sounds weird to you, too it's because this gender norm is so entrenched, we only call women's clothing pantsuits). The funeral home also provided men with a clothing allowance, but did not provide the same for women. The court held that enforcing Title VII was not the least restrictive means to reach the argued-for compelling governmental interest of prohibiting sex discrimination in the form of sex stereotyping.
The opinion is long and an interesting mashup of sex stereotyping, dress codes, LGBTQIA discrimination, RFRA, and Hobby Lobby. I haven't thoroughly analyzed it yet, but it seems a very troubling decision for a wide variety of reasons, not least of which is that it seems to import a sort of ministerial exemption on steroids into the private sector. The sense I get from my first read of the opinion is that the court reasoned to get to this point primarily because it disagreed with one of the claims made by the EEOC, which was that gender identity is sex for purposes of Title VII. That proposition has been accepted by a number of courts, but had been rejected by this judge.
This case is one to watch because it's certain to be appealed to the 6th Circuit.