Michigan funeral home asks appeals court to uphold respectful dress code for employees
WHO: Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Doug Wardlow
WHAT: Available for media interviews following oral arguments in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 4, immediately following hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. EDT
WHERE: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, 100 E. Fifth St., Room 540, Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Doug Wardlow will be available for media interviews Wednesday following his oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on behalf of a Michigan funeral home and its sex-specific dress code.
A federal court ruled last year in favor of the funeral home, which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued over the discharge of an employee who refused to comply with a requirement to dress in a manner sensitive to grieving family members and friends. The EEOC appealed the decision. ADF attorneys represent R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which has locations in Detroit, Garden City, and Livonia.
The EEOC’s appeal seeks to force the business’s owner to allow a biologically male employee to wear a female uniform while interacting with the public. The district court ruled that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the freedom of the business to maintain a dress code consistent with its sincerely held faith convictions.
“The government should respect the freedoms of those who wish to respectfully serve the grieving and vulnerable,” said Wardlow. “The federal government shouldn’t use employment law to strong-arm private business owners into violating their religious beliefs. The district court was right to affirm this, and we will vigorously encourage the 6th Circuit to uphold that ruling.”
The funeral home hired the male employee as a funeral director and embalmer at its Garden City location in 2007. Funeral directors at the company regularly interact with the public, including grieving family members and friends. After informing the funeral home of an intention to begin dressing as a female at work, the employee was dismissed for refusing to comply with the same company dress code that all other employees are required to follow while on the job.
As the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan acknowledged in its opinion and order in the case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, the company’s sole corporate officer and majority owner, Thomas Rost, is a Christian whose faith informs the way he operates his business and how he serves those who are deeply grieved by the loss of a loved one. Not only would Rost be violating his faith if he were to pay for and otherwise permit his employees to dress as members of the opposite sex while serving the grieving, the employee dress policy is intentionally sensitive to interaction with customers at an especially delicate time of their lives.
ADF attorneys argued that the funeral home did not violate Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment, and is, in fact, protected by RFRA, which says that the government cannot force someone like Rost to violate his faith unless it demonstrates that doing so is the “least restrictive means” of furthering a “compelling government interest.” The district court agreed that the EEOC’s actions violate RFRA.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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