At first glance it’s a legal fight between a funeral home operator and a fired employee but a future Supreme Court ruling could have far-reaching effects.
The nation’s highest court has agreed to hear arguments in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The chain of funeral homes, owned by Thomas Rost, employed a male director who informed Rost that he identified as a woman and intended to return to work dressed as one. He was fired instead.
"Funeral directors are the face of Harris Funeral Homes. They are a primary point of contact with grieving families, their guests and the communities that we serve," Rost told reporters in an April 22 media call.
Employees can dress as they wish on their own time, he continued, but as a business owner he is asking the court for the legal right to require a dress code that employees must follow.
According to Rost, the company offered the employee a severance package and he insists he complied with federal laws.
"But the EEOC came after us anyways," he told reporters. "Businesses should be able to rely on what the law says, not what government agencies like the EEOC want it to say. Punishing us with a large financial penalty for enforcing our dress code, consistent with the law, is unfair and wrong."
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. But it predictably does not say anything about gender identity and that issue --- the latest push for homosexual activists and their allies --- makes the Rost case an important one to watch.
The EEOC insisted that Rost must allow the male employee to dress as a female, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the EEOC.
"Substituting gender identity for sex in federal law will have far-reaching effects," warned attorney John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing Rost. "It will force businesses and schools to open spaces like showers, restrooms and locker rooms to people of the opposite sex. It will undermine critical advancements for women by giving sports scholarships and other educational opportunities that they've earned to men who identify as women."
Bursch added that it will also threaten freedom of conscience by, for example, forcing doctors to participate in or employers to pay for surgical efforts to alter sex in violation of their deeply-held beliefs.
"Whether the law should bring about these changes raises important policy questions that the American people have the right to decide for themselves through their elected officials," the attorney continued. "Unelected officials, whether bureaucrats or judges, do not have the power to make these choices for us."