Key Point 8-21.2. Many state civil rights laws prohibit employers with a specified number of employees from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of the sexual orientation of an employee or applicant for employment. Such laws generally exempt religious organizations.
A federal appeals court ruled that an employer could be sued for violating federal employment discrimination law for dismissing a transgender employee on the basis of its deeply-held religious beliefs. An adult male (the “plaintiff”) was born biologically male. While living and presenting as a man, he worked as a funeral director at a closely held for-profit corporation that operates three funeral homes in Michigan. The owner of the funeral homes has been a Christian for over 65 years and owns 95.4 percent of the company. He asserts “that God has called him to serve grieving people” and “that his purpose in life is to minister to the grieving.” To that end, the funeral home’s website contains a mission statement that states that the funeral home’s “highest priority is to honor God in all that we do as a company and as individuals” and includes a verse of Scripture on the bottom of the mission statement webpage. The funeral home itself, however, is not affiliated with a church; it does not claim to have a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation; it is open every day, including Christian holidays; and it serves clients of all faiths. Although the funeral home places the Bible, Daily Bread devotionals, and “Jesus Cards” in public places within the funeral homes, it does not decorate its rooms with “visible religious figures . . . to avoid offending people of different religions.” The funeral home hires employees belonging to any faith or no faith.