DOJ says Christian employers should be allowed to make women wear skirts


The Trump administration is going to court to get trans people fired and force women to dress like Christian conservatives think they should.

The Trump administration is continuing its war on the rights of trans people on all fronts. This time, it's in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This term, the Supreme Court will hear a case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to determine whether trans employees can be fired simply for being trans.

A lower court ruled last year that Harris Funeral Homes broke the law when they fired Aimee Stephens, a woman who began transitioning in 2013. Harris Funeral Homes is owned by conservative Christians who objected to people transitioning. The company also forced all employees to abide by strict gender roles in clothing: Men had to wear suits and ties, and women had to wear skirts and jackets.

In the lower courts, the EEOC was the entity that brought the lawsuit against the funeral home on behalf of Stephens. They argued that Title VII, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, applied to trans workers.

However, while that was a view supported by the EEOC under the Obama administration when the case began, it is not the view of the Trump administration at all. In fact, the administration just issued a proposed rule that would let any company that contracts with the federal government fire LGBTQ workers in the name of "religious liberty." The logic underpinning this bigoted rule is the same as in the case here: arguing that Title VII does not apply to trans workers and they, therefore, have no protection against getting fired.

Currently, the case is before the Supreme Court, to be heard in the 2019-2020 term, and the government has flipped sides. Last week, the Department of Justice wrote a brief arguing the case that the EEOC won in the appellate court should now be reversed, urging the Court to hand a victory to the Christian funeral home owner.

The DOJ's stance is so appalling that the EEOC refused to sign onto the brief. The argument of Solicitor General Noel Francisco, a Trump nominee, is that Title VII is limited only to discrimination based on "biological sex" only and therefore doesn't cover the firing of Stephens for being transgender. Put another way, the DOJ is arguing that Title VII applies when, say, women are treated worse at a job then men are, but not when transgender workers are treated worse at work than non-transgender workers.

It gets worse. The DOJ brief endorses the view of the funeral home owner, Thomas Rost, who said "the Bible teaches that it is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman or for a biological female to deny her sex by dressing as a man" and that he would fire any woman who refused to wear a skirt while at work.

You read that right. It's 2019, and the government is arguing that businesses should be allowed to force women to wear skirts at work as long as a Christian business owner demands it.

With that, this case isn't just a problem for transgender workers. It's a problem for any employee who doesn't conform to "traditional" notions of how men and women should behave and dress. As long as the employer says that their religion requires them to impose sex-specific dress codes, as Rost did here, they can presumably fire anyone who doesn't fall in line.

The administration is ostensibly going after trans people here, but really they're going after everyone who doesn't want the religious values of extremely conservative Christians imposed on them. Sadly, thanks to Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, they've now got a Supreme Court that will likely hand the Trump administration and Christian conservatives a win.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.