Aimee Stephens worked as director of a Detroit-area funeral home for six years, responsible for preparing and embalming bodies. Although she is transgender, she initially hid her female appearance and identity from her employer during her employment, presenting as male. When Ms. Stephens informed her employer that she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and would begin presenting as female at work, she was fired. The ACLU of Michigan represented Ms. Stephens in filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), arguing that the funeral home, by firing her for presenting as female, engaged in unlawful gender stereotyping in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. After investigating the case, the EEOC concluded that Ms. Stephens’ employer had violated her rights under Title VII and in 2014 filed a lawsuit on her behalf in federal court.
In 2016 Judge Sean Cox ruled in favor of the funeral home. On appeal, the ACLU intervened on behalf of Ms. Stephens and participated in briefing and oral argument. In 2018 the Sixth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that Title VII protects transgender employees from discrimination. The United States Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case along with two others regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In June 2020 we won a stunning victory in the Supreme Court, which ruled discrimination against LGBT employees is illegal under Title VII. The case is now back in the district court to determine damages and attorneys’ fees.
(EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Jay Kaplan and Dan Korobkin; National ACLU Attorneys John Knight, James Esseks, Gabriel Arkles, Chase Strangio, and David Cole.)