The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear three cases that together could rewrite the legal definition of sex. They have to do with transgender and homosexual employees who claim their bosses discriminated against them on the basis of sex, which they say includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Sex discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as is discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion.
One case involves a Christian funeral home owner who fired employee Anthony Stephens for insisting on dressing as a woman at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Tom Rost, owner of Detroit-based Harris Funeral Homes, on behalf of Stephens. The funeral home has a dress code with one set of rules for men and another for women. After Stephens informed Rost that he was planning on undergoing sex change surgery and would begin dressing as a woman instead of complying with the men’s dress code, the business ended his employment. Rost testified he could not “in good conscience” permit Stephens to present himself as a woman to grieving clients. And his convictions about God-designed manhood and womanhood prevented him from paying a clothing stipend to help facilitate Stephens’ transition. Stephens turned down an offer for a severance package.
“Court opinions should interpret legal terms according to their plain meaning when Congress passed the law,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Rost. He said the lower court ruling against the funeral home “rewrites federal law and is directly contrary to decisions from other federal appellate courts.”
ADF said in a statement that redefining “sex” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include gender identity would have widespread repercussions, especially on women and girls, as well as religious liberty. The firm pointed out that the EEOC’s own employment manual specifies different dress codes for men and women.
The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear other similar cases that relate to homosexuality. In one, New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda was fired in 2010 after he told a customer he was gay. In the other, Georgian Gerald Bostock claimed he was fired in 2014 for his sexual orientation.
This will be the first time the high court has considered such LGBT cases since Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion in the 2015 landmark same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, retired, making way for a conservative majority on the court. The cases are scheduled for oral arguments this fall, with decisions likely coming out in June 2020. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich