Religious beliefs collide with sex discrimination laws: court addresses the conflict.

Suppose you are the owner of a private business that you view as an opportunity to honor and serve God.  Your company’s mission statement tells us that your company’s “highest priority is to honor God in all that we do as a company and as individuals.”  It’s a family business that has been around for a long time.  Suppose further that you believe that the Bible teaches that sex is an immutable God-given gift.  Thus you believe that a person who is born male who later decides to dress like a woman is violating God’s law.

If that’s what you believed, how do you suppose you would respond when Mr. Stephens, who has worked for your company for five years, tells you that he is about to go on a vacation, and that when he returns, he would be a woman?

Mr. Rost, the owner of the business, fired Mr. Stephens.  The subsequent litigation has now produced a Circuit Court decision that squarely addresses the difficult issues that arise when our laws pertaining to sex discrimination collide with a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The Circuit Court held that the termination of the employee was an act of sex discrimination.  The Court also held that the burden this placed on Mr. Rost’s religious beliefs was not “substantial.”  Thus his defense, based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, failed.

That same issue is now pending before SCOTUS in the case involving the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s marriage.  We should get a decision on that soon.  In the meantime, lawyers will want to pour over this 49-page scholarly opinion.  The case is EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., decided by a panel of the 6th Circuit on March 7, 2018.  We found it at 884 F.3d 560.


 Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!