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Supreme Court asked to hear gender discrimination case

Are sex and gender the same? Is gender immutable and fixed or subjective?

These are some of the theoretical questions that have to be answered and defined into law because they have real-world implications for the nation's transgender community -- which has become increasingly visible and vocal over the last decade alone.

Now, a case involving a transgender woman and employment discrimination is heading for the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court takes it, its outcome could go a long way toward giving transgendered individuals the protections they need in the workplace to be who they really are -- or it may strip them of the limited protections they already have. Either way, it's an important case.

At issue in the case is whether or not a Michigan funeral home had the right to fire one of its directors after she notified the owners about her intended transition from her previous public identity, which was male. The funeral home's owners are devout Christians of a variety that believes that gender and sex are the same and fixed. They claim that they fired the employee because she could not conform to their dress code, which is different for males and females.

The employee sued for discrimination under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Title VII rules. Initially, a district court ruled that the funeral home's owners hadn't violated Title VII rules, but still discriminated against the employee based on her failure to conform with gender stereotypes. An appeals court struck another blow against the funeral home by ruling for the EEOC's case in its entirety.

Attorneys for the funeral home say that the lower courts are trying to shift the definitions of gender and sex. They have now applied to have the case heard before the top court in the land.

This case has implications that involve far more than the transgender community alone, however. Right now, it's illegal for an employer to fire a male employee simply for not being "manly" enough -- or a female employee for not being "womanly" enough. If the funeral home succeeds in its quest, those protections could vanish.

Discrimination in the workplace is never okay. If your career is at stake due to discrimination, it's important to take steps to protect yourself. An attorney can help you determine your best avenue of approach when dealing with the situation.

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