R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against transgender employees based on their status as transgender or sex stereotyping under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).Advocates
- David D. Cole, for the respondent Aimee Stephens, Deceased
- John J. Bursch, for the petitioner R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc.
- Noel J. Francisco, for the respondent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
In Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Court considered the application of Title VII protections to transgender people.
The case concerned a respondent, Aimee Stephens—now deceased—who was fired from her position as a funeral director at the petitioner’s funeral home shortly after disclosing that she was transgender.
The oral argument was, frustratingly, dominated by ancillary concerns unrelated to the core issue on appeal. Specifically, while the issue on appeal was limited to whether firing someone for being transgender constitutes discrimination “because of” sex contrary to Title VII, many questions posed by the Court, instead, centred on downstream considerations about the application of Title VII to sex-based policies. This focus began with the very first question from the bench about access to women’s bathrooms (Chief Justice Roberts at 2:21) and persisted throughout David Cole’s submissions to questions about dress codes (Justice Gorsuch at 6:06), locker rooms (Justice Sotomayor at 8:50), and college sports (Justice Alito at 13:43).
Given the split focus during Mr. Cole’s submissions—seldom on the central issue of whether firing someone for being transgender violates Title VII, and often on ancillary issues of sex-based policies—I have included two questions below in this Oral Argument 2.0.
The first question is from Chief Justice Roberts regarding whether a Title VII claim by a transgender person should be assessed based on, in his words, “transgender status” or “biological sex” (see 4:04). Mr. Cole did an admirable job handling this issue throughout the hearing. But, in my view, the false premise the question is based on—i.e., that “biological sex” and “transgender status” are siloes—could have been challenged more directly.
The second question is from Justice Sotomayor regarding how we balance a transgender women’s bathroom access with cisgender women’s potential discomfort (see 7:57). Mr. Cole was right to point out that this is “not the question in this case”. But, in my view, given the Court’s apparent concern with downstream considerations, I think more direct engagement with the issue of balancing may have been warranted.R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Oyez: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2019/18-107