A recent court settlement will cost a Christian businessman $250,000 for attempting to enforce a dress code for his male employees. The story reflects the sad cultural and legal impacts of the sexual revolution.
Harris Funeral Homes is a fifth-generation family business in the Detroit, Michigan area. Several years ago the current owner, Tom Rost, a Christian, was sued by Anthony Stephens, his funeral director and embalmer, who suffered from gender dysphoria and wanted to dress and present himself as a female at work. He even changed his first name to Aimee.
Rost was justifiably concerned about the effect Stephens’ desired appearance as a woman would have on grieving clients. When Rost told Stephens that he must adhere to the dress code for male employees while at the office, Stephens refused and left the company. He then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for sex discrimination, and the case, along with two others, went all the way to the Supreme Court under the name Bostock v. Clayton County.
The high court, in a majority opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and handed down last June, concluded that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, was written broadly enough to include transgender persons. It also concluded, in the two companion cases decided the same day, that the word “sex” included homosexuality, making it a protected category as well.
The Bostock decision upended long-standing norms in employment law. Up to that point, the Supreme Court had never equated the definition of “sex” with anything other than biological males and females. Certainly, Congress in 1964 had no intent or understanding that the word could come to mean men who think they are women, and vice versa, or that it included homosexuality. In fact, the 1964 Act’s inclusion of sex as a protected class was designed, among other things, to address the imbalance in working conditions for women in the national workforce.
Multiple legislative attempts to have Congress add transgenderism and homosexuality to the 1964 Act since then have been rejected.
So Rost certainly had no idea back in 2013 that he was not completely within his rights to address his employment situation with Stephens as he did. But the EEOC, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), attempted to change the law by using the courts, and succeeded in the Bostock decision.
One of the immediate repercussions from the Bostock decision came to light this week because of a financial settlement reached in the funeral home case. The Detroit News reports that Rost has agreed to pay $130,000 to Stephens’ estate (he passed away during the pendency of the lawsuit) for lost back pay and other damages, and $120,000 to the ACLU for costs and attorney fees. Rost will also have to adjust his employee policies and report his compliance with the new rules to the EEOC for a period of three years.
The consequences of the Bostock decision are just beginning to be felt. In his Bostock dissent, Justice Samuel Alito predicted future trouble for religious organizations, women’s sports, sex-appropriate bathrooms, and a host of other issues.
“Although the Court does not want to think about the consequences of its decision, we will not be able to avoid those issues for long,” Alito wrote. “The entire federal judiciary will be mired for years in disputes about the reach of the Court’s reasoning.”
We’re already seeing some of that fallout occurring.
Christian employers, students and parents will need an increased measure of wisdom in negotiating the days ahead.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom