A federal appeals court has overruled a lower court and now says a funeral home director in Michigan must allow a male employee to dress as a woman.
"American business owners, especially those serving the grieving and the vulnerable, should be free to live and work consistently with their faith," said ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb following Wednesday's ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which has locations in Detroit, Garden City, and Livonia. Owner Thomas Rost was confronted by a male employee who informed Rost that he intended to leave work for a two-week vacation and come back presenting as a member of the opposite sex. Rost said that would be a violation of the company's sex-specific dress code, and that it would also violate his sincerely held religious belief that sex is an immutable gift from God that cannot and should not be changed.
"The funeral home's dress code is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one," ADF's McCaleb continues. "Today's decision misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming code policies."
In 2016, a federal district court ruled in favor of the funeral home and its workplace dress code. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had sued over the discharge of the employee, who refused to comply with the male dress code. The court ruled that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the freedom of a business to maintain a dress code consistent with its sincerely held faith convictions. The EEOC appealed the decision and got the ruling in its favor Wednesday.