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Funeral Home That Fired Aimee Stephens Must Pay $250K to Estate, ACLU

Aimee Stephens and Jay Kaplan
From left: ACLU attorney Jay Kaplan with Aimee Stephens in 2019

Detroit-area company R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes owes back pay and damages, and must cease anti-trans discrimination going forward.

A federal judge has approved a settlement between the estate of Aimee Stephens and the funeral home company that fired her for being transgender, leading to a lawsuit that resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Stephens, an embalmer and funeral director, was fired by Detroit-area company R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in 2013 after she informed management she would begin presenting as female at work. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued on her behalf.

In June of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that job discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation constituted sex discrimination, which is banned by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court did not rule on the merits of the three cases it considered -- that is, whether such discrimination actually occurred -- so they went back to the lower courts. In addition to Stephens's case, there were two brought by men who said they were fired for being gay.

Stephens died in May at age 59, but her estate continued to pursue the case. In the settlement of Stephens's case, approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox in Michigan, Harris Funeral Homes must pay $130,000 to Stephens's estate, The Detroit News reports. That includes $63,724 in back pay with interest and $66,276 in damages.

The company is also ordered to pay $120,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation to cover attorneys' and court costs. The ACLU helped represent Stephens in her suit, with its legal director, David D. Cole, arguing at the Supreme Court.

The settlement requires Harris Funeral Homes to cease discriminating on the basis of gender identity, to provide training for all employees on sex discrimination (including gender identity discrimination), and to offer equal clothing stipends to male and female employees. The stipend was previously made available only to men. Women who've worked for the company going back to 2012 will receive retroactive benefits for clothing, equal to the average spent on men during that period.

One of the reasons Harris Funeral Homes gave for firing Stephens was that by presenting as female, she would be violating its dress code for men. Thomas Rost, Stephens's supervisor, said Harris would upset grieving families by appearing in women's clothing. He also cited his religious beliefs about the immutability of gender. The anti-LGBTQ+ Alliance Defending Freedom represented the funeral home company.

"We are pleased that all sides were able to come to an agreement regarding damages and attorney fees," Jay Kaplan, an attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, told the News. "The settlement of this case is bittersweet in that Aimee passed away before matters could be resolved."

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