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Michigan Funeral Home Settles Lawsuit That Led to Major Transgender Rights Victory at Supreme Court

— December 4, 2020

The funeral home will pay $250,000 to the ACLU and estate of Aimee Stephens, while also agreeing to update its anti-discrimination policies.

A Michigan funeral home will pay $250,000 to the estate of a transgender employee, whose lawsuit convinced the United States Supreme Court to rule discrimination against transgender workers illegal.

According to NBC News, the lawsuit appears to be settled with RG&GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc.—along its legal counsel, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom—signed a consent decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and estate of Aimee Stephens.

Under the terms of the agreement, Harris Homes will pay $130,000 to Stephens estate, with that amount including back pay and damages. The company must pay a further $120,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Stephens.

The consent decree, lodged in a Detroit federal court, effectively ends the litigation.

The Detroit News notes that Stephens, who had worked with Harris for six years, was fired from her job as an embalmer and funeral services director in 2013.

Stephens’s termination came shortly after she told her boss, Thomas Rost, that she was transitioning from male to female and would begin wearing “female” attire to work.

Although the ACLU eventually took up Stephens’s case, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on her behalf in 2014.

In court, Rost and Harris Homes argued that Stephens’s dress and appearance would have been distracting for grieving families. Attorneys for the funeral home chain—which operates three different outlets across Southeast Michigan—further asserted that Rost was within his rights to require that Stephens adhere to the company’s male dress code.

Supreme Court building. Image via Joe Ravi/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-3.0).

Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who worked on the case, told NBC that the “settlement marks a closing chapter in Aimee Stephens’ remarkable fight for justice.”

Stephens, notes NBC, died from complications related to kidney disease in May—several weeks before the Supreme Court announced its decision protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination.

We are sad that Aimee is not here to experience this moment with her wife Donna and grateful for all that Aimee, Donna, and the many trans fighters for justice and their families have done to bring us to this place. As Aimee always said, this fight is about more than just her and it will stretch far beyond this case,” Strangio wrote in a Wednesday statement. “The Biden administration must make it clear that across all areas of federal law sex discrimination protections apply to LGBTQ people and Congress must pass the Equality Act to close critical gaps in our civil rights laws that leave so many LGBTQ people, women, and many people of color vulnerable to discrimination. We will honor Aimee’s legacy by continuing her fight for a country where all trans and non-binary people belong and feel safe.”

Along with the award to Stephens’s estate, Harris Homes will be compelled, as part of the settlement, to revise several workplace policies and procedures. The company must create and publish written policies relating to sex discrimination; the release of such policies must be accompanied by a statement prompting employees’ to report any and all violations.

Harris Homes will also have to circulate among its employees a post-notice of its non-discrimination policy, which must include the specific statement that “federal law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex (including transgender status) in all aspects of employment, including but not limited to hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, job training and workplace benefits.”

Harris must also change several other existing policies and will have to equalize the disbursal of “clothing benefits” among male and female workers. In the past, Harris’s policy provided an attire stipend for men but not women.


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