On August 18, 2016, a U.S. District Court in Michigan ruled that religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) trump transgender rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., 2016 WL 4396083 (E.D. Mich., August 18, 2016).
June is upon us, and with June comes controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions. This year, that will include a decision on same-sex marriage. At this time of year, it’s always good to prepare your managers for dealing with coffee-break conversations about these controversial employment-related topics. If they become heated, such conversations can cause hurt feelings. Although those hurt feelings are no big deal from an employment perspective, hostile-work-environment allegations can start with a few words about the latest decision. Employers should be careful to monitor such discussions—especially the ones having to do with rights of same-sex couples or transgender employees.
Last month, Lanier Ford attorney Lauren Smith wrote about the EEOC’s federal-sector decisions involving application of the anti-discrimination protections of Title VII to transgender employees. The blog post noted that the federal-sector decision was not binding on private employers, but nonetheless gives important insight into the EEOC’s position on this issue.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced new guidelines on June 1, 2015, for restroom access for transgender workers. The guidelines, which are not official standards or regulations, set out OSHA’s best practices for employers with transgender employees. These best practices include having written policies to ensure that all employees—regardless of gender—have prompt access to appropriate sanitary facilities that correspond with the employee’s gender identity.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continued its proactive stance towards transgender employees in a ruling released early last month. In its April 1, 2015, decision, the EEOC determined that a transgender civilian employee at Redstone Arsenal had experienced discrimination when she was restricted from using a common women’s restroom. This case highlights the EEOC’s aggressive policy of eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.