Aimee Stephens, a former funeral home director who said she was fired from her job after coming out as a transgender woman, didn't live long enough to see the Supreme Court reach a ruling in her workplace discrimination case. She died last month
at her home in Redford at age 59.
However, Stephens would be pleased with today's ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. The vote was 6 to 3, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch writing the majority opinion, joined by John G. Roberts Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
Title VII prohibited employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. The case sought to find out if "sex" applied to discrimination against gay and transgender workers as well.
Stephen's was one of two sets of cases covered in the suit. The others were from gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation.
"Lawyers for the workers responded that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation or transgender status must as a matter of logic take account of sex," the New York Times reports
Stephens made national headlines when she said she was fired from her job at metro Detroit-based RG & GR Funeral Homes in 2013 after coming out as transgender.
According to NPR
, Stephens came out after contemplating suicide.
"I stood in the back yard with a gun to my chest. But I couldn't do it," she said.
Two weeks after she came out in a letter, the funeral home's owner, Thomas Rost, fired her, and Stephens sued for discrimination. She was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Stephens' favor, and the funeral home then appealed to the Supreme Court. Stephens traveled to Washington, D.C., for the occasion.
"To hear them outside of the courthouse steps chanting my name, telling me that they loved me, that has a big effect on you," she said in an ACLU video. "The more I’ve seen the support, it gives me the strength to get up another day, to go on fighting another day and give that same hope to all the rest."
Stephens died on May 12 from complications related to kidney failure.
"Today, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court confirmed what we already know – that nobody deserves to lose their job because of who they are or how they identify," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. "This is good news for the countless LGBTQ+ Michiganders who have been fighting for equality for decades, and would not have been possible if not for one of the plaintiffs, Aimee Stephens, a brave Michigander who fought for transgender rights until the day she died. There is still more work to do. We must continue fighting to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and make Michigan a state where more people want to move to for opportunity. In honor of Aimee, take today to celebrate this victory, and tomorrow, let’s continue fighting to ensure equality for all Michiganders."
The National Trans Bar Association also celebrated the victory.
"This decision sends an unambiguous message that equal protection under the law applies to all American workplaces, and that an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not a licence to discriminate," NTBA Co-Chair Kristen Browde said in a statement. "It is a direct defeat of the unrelenting assault on equality waged by the Trump administration, and a clear victory for the rule of law."
"There can be no doubt about the importance of this decision for the LGBTQ+ community," Browde added. "Transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans have every reason to celebrate this major step forward."
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