A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a Detroit funeral home did not violate the law when it fired a transgender employee.

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which has three locations in the Detroit metropolitan area, fired a funeral director and embalmer who worked at its Garden City location two weeks after he disclosed to his employer of six years that he would be transitioning to a woman.

Owner Thomas F. Rost claimed that he had a right to fire Amiee Stephens under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox agreed, saying that application of federal discrimination law would impede Rost's right to practice his faith.

“The court finds that the funeral home has met its initial burden of showing that enforcement of Title VII, and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it, would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Cox wrote.

Attorney Douglas G. Wardlow of the Christian conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Rost and his company in the case.

“This case wasn't about gender identity,” Wardlow is quoted as saying by The Detroit News. “It was about the owner's religious belief that sex is a immutable and God-given gift.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), called the ruling “reckless.”
“This is a reckless ruling against a woman who was fired simply because she is transgender,” Warbelow said in a statement. “Judge Cox’s deeply disappointing decision has the possibility of setting an incredibly dangerous precedent that purported religious beliefs can be used as an excuse to violate non-discrimination laws. It has the potential of opening a Pandora's box of discrimination against a wide range of vulnerable communities. We are incredibly concerned about the implications.”