Upcoming Supreme Court Decision Will Set Precedent for Discrimination Cases

Upcoming Supreme Court Decision Will Set Precedent for Discrimination Cases

In October, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, a case that could have broad implications for how discrimination based on the term sex will be interpreted.

Harris Funeral Homes is a family-owned Michigan business of more than 100 years run by Tom Rost, a devout Christian. In 2007, the company hired a biological male employee as a funeral director. When hired, the man agreed to Harris’ professional code of conduct and sex-specific dress code, both of which are standard in the funeral home industry and within the guidelines set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In dealing with grieving clients, Rost believes that his employees should respect those clients by dressing appropriately and performing their duties in a professional manner. Six years later, the employee announced in a letter to Rost that he intended to begin dressing and presenting himself as a woman while working with grieving families.

After much thought and prayer, Rost gave the employee a choice—he could either conform to Harris’ male dress code or resign and accept a generous severance package. Instead, the employee filed a complaint with the EEOC, which then filed a federal lawsuit against Rost’s business for sex discrimination in violation of Title VIIof the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a provision dealing with discrimination based on sex.

Specifically, this upcoming high court decision will have broad implications on the interpretation of Title VII. During the Obama administration, the term sex was broadened by executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity in federal government jobs rather than its original meaning of biological sex.

The EEOC and the American Civil Liberties Union claim that Title VII’s sex discrimination clause covers both gender identity and biological sex.

Rost said in a statement: “Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is at the time that they make business decisions. Employers like me shouldn’t risk incurring punitive damages for following existing laws. The EEOC is usurping the role of Congress, hoping to create drastic change through the courts.”

For six years, Rost has been fighting for his business and his right to live out his Biblical values. He admitted that the first few years were emotionally draining and discouraging, but when he received a phone call from Franklin Graham, his perspective changed.

“That’s when I realized that to win a case like this is such a big deal for the Christian community, which has lost so much in recent years. … There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Franklin recalls that phone call, too. In a recent Facebook post, he encouraged people to pray for Rost, emphasizing that what “the Supreme Court decides will affect small business owners, ministries, colleges and every one of us.”


Above: Tom Rost, owner of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom

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