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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 12, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 33
SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision overrides Title VII, federal judge says
Section One
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SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision overrides Title VII, federal judge says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal judge ruled on August 18 that the US Supreme Court decision known as the Hobby Lobby case allows some private businesses to discriminate against LGBT employees if they do so on the basis of their owners' religious beliefs.

US District Court Judge Sean Cox so ruled in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit brought on behalf of a Transgender employee of Michigan-based RG & GR Funeral Homes.

The EEOC received a complaint from the employee and found on her behalf, ordering her employer to allow her to wear the skirt-suit the funeral home designates as dress code for female employees.

According to the EEOC, the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also protects gender identity and expression and bars employers from discriminating against Trans employees.

Judge Cox disagreed, however. He argued that the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision - allowing employers to opt out of certain provisions of Obamacare - also allows them to disregard Title VII if the civil rights law would infringe their religious liberty.

In other words, Hobby Lobby trumps Title VII.

'Thus, the question becomes whether the law at issue here, Title VII and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, imposes a substantial burden on the ability of the Funeral Home to conduct business in accordance with its religious beliefs,' the judge wrote. 'The Court concludes that the Funeral Home has shown that it does.'

Cox cited the funeral home's website, which says that the company's 'highest priority is to honor God in all that we do as a company and as individuals.'

One of the funeral home's owners, the judge continued, believes that the 'Bible teaches that a person's sex (whether male or female) is an immutable God-given gift and that it is wrong for a person to deny his or her God-given sex.'

Cox also criticized the EEOC for not trying to reach a negotiated accommodation with RG & GR before suing to force them to comply with Title VII.

'If a least restrictive means is available to achieve the goal, the government must use it,' Cox wrote in his decision.

'This requires the government to show a degree of situational flexibility, creativity, and accommodation when putative interests clash with religious exercise. It has failed to do so here. The EEOC's briefs do not contain any indication that the EEOC has explored the possibility of any accommodations or less restrictive means that might work under these facts.'

ACLU attorney Josh Block, whose group filed an amicus brief supporting the EEOC, said the implications of the ruling were troubling.

'It would mean any religious employer would suddenly have a defense to firing someone in violation of any civil rights law as long as it was based on religious belief,' Block said.

'It's a very odd decision, and there are a million different ways it can and should be reversed,' which he expects will happen when the district court ruling is appealed, Block said.

Cox's ruling also showed that the dissenters in Hobby Lobby were right about the potentially sweeping impact of that decision, Block added.

'They specifically warned what the majority was doing would open up this Pandora's box,' he said. 'The majority said, 'No, it won't.' This is a sort of a vindication of what the dissenters were saying all along.'

Cox was appointed to the federal bench by George W Bush.

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