The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review a lower court ruling that redefines the term “sex” in federal labor laws to include “gender identity.” The case is likely to have far-reaching implications for government entities, businesses and secular non-profit organizations.
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involves a man who worked for six years at the funeral home before announcing that he would be known as “Aimee” and would be dressing in female attire. The funeral home eventually fired him, citing concerns that his female presentation would disturb grieving families and would conflict with the employer’s Christian beliefs about sex and gender, according to Scotusblog.com, which posts detailed coverage of the high court’s proceedings.
The federal EEOC took up the employee’s case against the funeral home, losing in federal district court in 2016 before prevailing in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case will be argued next fall with a decision announced in 2020 amid the presidential election race.
John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the funeral home, said in a statement: “Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender identity’—a change with widespread consequences for everyone. Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is—not what government agencies want it to be—when they create and enforce employment policies. The funeral home wants to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one, but the EEOC has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves.”
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes exemptions for religious institutions, including houses of worship and religious schools. It prohibits discrimination, among other things, on the basis of sex—as a way of protecting women from workplace discrimination. The EEOC under the Obama administration began applying the meaning to include discrimination against “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.”
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