Appeals court rules Christian-owned funeral home violated laws in firing transgender director

An appeals court in the United States ruled on Wednesday that a Christian-owned funeral parlor illegally fired its transgender funeral director after she revealed she would begin dressing as a woman at work.

(REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)A transgender fired from her job as a funeral director lodged a lawsuit and the Court of Appeals sided with her.

The court said that RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan and its owner Thomas Rost violated laws following the removal of Aimee Stephens from her duties in 2013. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in a  49-page document that the funeral home broke the laws stipulated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII," Moore's ruling read.

Stephens, who was formerly known as Anthony Stephens, originally filed her complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014 but the funeral home's lawyers defended the case by citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The lower court in Detroit favored the funeral home's arguments in 2016 by considering that Rost conducted his business "as a ministry."

Stephens joined the company as a man in 2007 and rose through the ranks as a funeral director. In 2013, however, she began her transition and planned to come to work as a woman.

Rost, a staunch Christian, claimed that Stephens' transition went against his religious beliefs. The company shouldered the cost of its workers' clothes and Rost refused to pay for Stephens' women's clothing.

Moore, however, stated that the RFRA does not support the funeral home's defense, as it was not legally obligated to shoulder employee's clothing. It was also not a church that observes Christian holidays. Further, the funeral home has clients from all walks of faiths. The judge also said that Rost's tolerance of Stephens' new gender identity is not equal to supporting her lifestyle.

The funeral home's counsel, the Alliance Defending Freedom through lawyer Gary McCaleb, told the press that it would appeal Moore's decision. Meanwhile, the EEOC has not yet made a statement regarding the case.