WASHINGTON—Civil rights laws don’t protect transgenderemployees from being fired because of their gender identity, the Trump administration argued in a new filing with the Supreme Court.
The legal brief was filed Aug. 16 in R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, a lawsuit involving a transgender person, Aimee Stephens, formerly known as Anthony Stephens, who was fired by a Michigan funeral home.
In 2013, Stephens declared a desire to begin dressing as a woman while at work and was fired by Thomas Rost, the Christian owner of the business, who said he was merely upholding a sex-appropriate dress code. Rost made it clear he wouldn’t have fired Stephens for dressing as a woman outside of work. Stephens refused to comply with the sartorial rule and turned down an offer of severance pay.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued on Stephens’s behalf and lost at the trial level, but then prevailed in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Citing a 1989 Supreme Court precedent known as Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the appeals court found that Stephens was fired unlawfully for failing “to conform to sex stereotypes.”
While the case was working its way through the judicial system, in October 2017, the Trump administration announced that going forward the Department of Justice would take the position that the law’s “prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se.”
The decision undid a December 2014 directive issued by the Obama administration that took the opposite position.