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Funeral director and trans rights advocate Aimee Stephens

Aimee Stephens (1960–2020) transgender activist in current Supreme Court case

by Linnea Crowther

Aimee Stephens was a transgender woman whose job discrimination case went to the Supreme Court in 2020.

Personal and legal journey

Stephens was a funeral director who had been working for R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan for six years when she was fired in 2013. Her firing came two weeks after she announced in a letter to her coworkers that, though she had been born male, she identified as a woman and would begin living as her true self. Coworkers said that Stephens was very good at her job, and her employer made it clear that she was fired because of her decision to make her transgender status public.

Stephens sought legal representation and went to court, alleging job discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. However, Title VII doesn’t specifically refer to transgender people. The district court found for the funeral home, but when Stephens appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, she won. The funeral home appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October 2019. Their decision was still pending at the time of Stephens’ death.


Posthumous Supreme Court decision

On July 15, 2020, news broke that the Supreme Court had ruled 6-3 in favor of Stephens, stating that LGBTQ+ people are protected from job discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Justice Neil M. Gorusch wrote the majority opinion, supported by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The decision came just over a month after Stephens’ death.

Stephens’ letter to her coworkers

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster. I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness… I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire. I hope we can continue my work at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best!”

What people said about her

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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