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Meet the trans woman headed to the US Supreme Court for being unfairly fired

Meet the trans woman headed to the US Supreme Court for being unfairly fired

Supreme Court to hear Aimee Stephens' case

Aimee Stephens is one of the three LGBTI people whose case of employment discrimination will be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this year.

In April, the Supreme Court announced they will review three cases dealing with LGBTI discrimination in the workplace.

There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, granting federal protections against discrimination for certain identities, applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many hope these cases will settle the matter.

In anticipation of the oral arguments this fall, GSN will be posting guides for all three cases. This is the first: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission & Aimee Stephens.

What this Supreme Court case is about

Aimee Stephens worked at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes as a funeral director for nearly six years when she came out as transgender in 2013. She informed her boss she would be coming to work as a woman and they allegedly responded that would be ‘unacceptable’.  Two weeks later, they fired her.

Stephens began seeing a therapist in 2008, years after knowing the truth of her gender identity since she was a young girl. She explored her identity and options going forward with her therapist.

After the funeral home let Stephens go, she and her wife Donna suffered financial hardship. The circumstances also left Stephens without health insurance when one of her kidneys failed.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC sued on her behalf.

In her brief to the Supreme Court, Stephens and her litigation team acknowledged that even with a limited definition of Title VII, R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes still discriminated.

‘Even if Title VII’s reference to “sex” encompasses only one’s sex assigned at birth, as Harris Homes asserts, the decision to fire Ms. Stephens was “because of sex,”‘ the brief states.

‘Had Ms. Stephens been assigned a female rather than a male sex at birth, Harris Homes would not have fired her for living openly as a woman. Because Harris Homes would have treated Ms. Stephens differently had her assigned sex at birth been different, its decision to fire Ms. Stephens violated Title VII.’

What other courts and officials have said

Following the EEOC’s lawsuit, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Stephens’ favor in March 2018. The court said her firing violated Title VII.

In early July, several groups and organizations filed amicus briefs on behalf of the LGBTI employees in all three cases. Major businesses and some Republicans include those who have come out in support of anti-discrimination measures.

Other groups, however, such as a different sect of Republicans, have urged SCOTUS not to protect trans workers.

The Trump-Pence Administration has also taken a side.

On numerous occasions, the Justice Department under Trump has declared Title VII does not apply to either sexual orientation or gender identity.

What happens next at the Supreme Court?

Oral arguments at the Supreme Court for this case are scheduled for 8 October. The vote and opinion are still to be determined.

A decision will likely be handed down in spring 2020 — during the thick of the presidential race.

The Supreme Court currently has a conservative majority. Trump nominated two conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, within his first term.

The Supreme Court is not the only path for LGBTI federal protections.

Democrats recently re-introduced the Equality Act to Congress, which would mandate federal protections for LGBTI Americans across the nation.

Read about the two other cases: Altitude Express, Inc, v Melissa Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County.

See also

Why your place of work should be LGBTI-friendly all year, not just for Pride

Trans woman fired from Minnesota restaurant for wearing makeup

Trans woman sues New Jersey restaurant for unlawful termination