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Workplace discrimination can wear many disguises

Both the federal government and the Michigan government take all workplace discrimination seriously. However, there are times when some cases can slip right through the cracks. A recent story published online reveals how workplace discrimination can be hidden under the guise of an employer's religious rights.

The person at the center of this story worked in a Detroit funeral home for six years. When she came out as transgender, she began to live as a woman and wear clothing "consistent with her gender identity." Two weeks later, the owner of the funeral home fired the woman, saying that her behavior did not fall in line with his religious beliefs.

In what should have been an open and shut case of workplace discrimination, advocates filed a lawsuit on the woman's behalf under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The employer countered by claiming that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) exempted him from Title VII. Unfortunately, "in the first decision of its kind," the court agreed with the employer.

Advocates for the woman say that the RFRA cannot be used in a manner that would violate the First Amendment and antidiscrimination laws. In response to the court's decision, these advocates filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief on April 24 with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The brief urges the court to overturn the previous ruling. Specifically, the brief says upholding the lower court's decision would give for-profit businesses the power to discriminate at will simply by citing religious beliefs.

Often, misinterpreting important acts like the RFRA give employers loopholes through which to escape antidiscrimination laws. This is one more reason how a workplace discrimination attorney can help you if you have been wrongfully discharged from your job.

Source: Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "AU And Allies: Michigan Funeral Home Can’t Use Religion To Justify Discrimination Against Transgender Employee," Carmen Green, April 25, 2017

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