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Court rules transgender workers protected against discrimination

California employees who identify as transgender may be interested to learn that on March 7, a federal judge ruled that a Detroit funeral home that terminated a funeral director for transitioning violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This decision extends the protections of Title VII. This law already prevented employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, race, sex or national origin.

In this case, the employee was terminated after telling the boss that they intended to transition from male to female. The boss testified in court that he indeed fired the employee due to the fact that the employee intended to represent herself as a woman instead of a man. The boss told the court that the basis for firing the employee was due to his religious beliefs that transitioning violated “God’s command.”

A lower court originally ruled that the funeral home had the right to terminate the employee under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, the judge for the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disputed the exemption as firing someone for identifying as transgender is motivated at least in part by the person’s gender. The judge also noted in the decision that the employee’s transition did not place a “substantial burden” on the boss’s religious beliefs or practice.

Employees in California are legally protected against workplace discrimination and harassment. However, incidents of discrimination and harassment from bosses, supervisors and coworkers can still be prevalent in some workplaces. If the employer fails to remedy the situation or takes action against the employee for reporting the harassment or discrimination, an employment law attorney may investigate and determine if the employee has a case against the employer. If so, the attorney may represent the employee by negotiating a settlement or taking the case to court.