EEOC: Defining employees' sex by chromosomes jeopardizes Title VII protections
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) told the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a Detroit funeral home's definition of biological sex could remove legal protections for millions of people, Reuters reports.
- RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc. claims that sex is based on chromosomes, an assertion the EEOC describes as a "fossilized," or rigid, view of gender orientation that leaves millions of people who are neither biologically female or male without protection against discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
- The funeral home's claim would also exclude transgender workers and intersex people, those whose reproductive anatomy doesn't fit the typical description of being female or male. The EEOC previously sued the funeral home for firing a transgender worker.
There's another layer of intrigue around this case, given that the EEOC brought the charge against the funeral home at the same that its assertion that Title VII covers sexual orientation is under review by federal courts.
The agency raises the question of whether the funeral home fired the transgender worker for cause or because it thought it could do so legally because of the chromosome claim. A lower court ruled that the funeral home's decision to fire the transgender worker was protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In any case, the ethical decision for employers is to be open to employee's requests for reasonable accommodations. Front line managers should be prepared to discuss workplace problems with transgender and intersex workers candidly and respectfully. It's HR's job to provide the appropriate avenues.
Employers will have to wait for the appeals court's decision to find out if the defendant violated Title VII.