Court rules in favor of fired transgender funeral director

Corporate Governance

A woman was illegally fired by a Detroit-area funeral home after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in Garden City discriminated against director Aimee Stephens by firing her in 2013.

In a 3-0 decision, the court said "discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" of federal civil rights law.

The court overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who said the funeral home had met its burden to show that keeping Stephens "would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely held religious beliefs."

The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex," said judges Karen Nelson Moore, Helene White and Bernice Donald.

The EEOC learned that the funeral home, until fall 2014, provided clothing to male workers dealing with the public but not females. The court said it was reasonable for the EEOC to investigate and discover the "seemingly discriminatory clothing-allowance policy."

Stephens said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union that nobody "should be fired from their job just for being who they are," adding "I'm thrilled with the court's decision."

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