Pronoun litigation at the Circuit Court: Part Two.

Yesterday we told you about the facts and the district court decision in the case involving a teacher who objected to the school’s “pronoun policy.”  Today: the Circuit Court’s ruling.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that Mr. Kluge was properly terminated for his refusal to comply with the school’s policy.  Since his objection to the pronoun policy was based in his sincere religious beliefs, the district was obligated to seek a way to accommodate his view. The district did that, but ultimately concluded that there was no accommodation that was satisfactory to the district.  The court upheld the lower court’s analysis of the legal standard—that the district is not obligated to endure an “undue hardship” in its efforts to accommodate, and that it doesn’t take much to reach “undue hardship.” 

The critical factor, as the 7th Circuit viewed it, was that students were being harmed by Mr. Kluge’s refusal to follow the policy.  Key Quotes:

The last-names-only practice conflicted with the school’s philosophy of affirming and respecting all students because the undisputed evidence showed that the accommodation resulted in students feeling disrespected, targeted, and dehumanized, and in disruptions to the learning environment.

Title VII does not require an employer to retain an employee who harms the employer’s mission.

Brownsburg has demonstrated as a matter of law that the requested accommodation worked an undue burden on the school’s educational mission by harming transgender students and negatively impacting the learning environment for transgender students, for other students in Kluge’s classes and in the school generally, and for faculty.  Title VII does not require that employers accommodate religious practices that work an undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business; that sometimes means that a religious employee’s practice cannot be accommodated.

This was a 2-1 decision with both opinions being lengthy, sort of as if the judges expect this case to be heard by a Higher Court.  That’s a good bet.

But for now, this is the highest level decision we have on this particular issue. Moreover, it very likely aligns with the amended Title IX regulations we will see in final form soon.  It’s Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation, decided by the 7th Circuit on April 7, 2023.  It’s cited at 2023 WL 2821871. 


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Tomorrow: get that contract signed and returned!