Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump think federal law shouldn’t protect transgender people. They think it should be legal to fire someone just because she’s trans. Five federal appeals courts disagree. On Wednesday, the ACLU asked the Supreme Court to let stand one of those rulings, in the case of Aimee Stephens.
Aimee had worked at a funeral home in Detroit for nearly six years when she wrote a letter telling her boss and coworkers that she is transgender. Two weeks after she came out as a woman to her employer, he fired her -- not because of concerns about her job performance, but just because she is transgender.
When Aimee sued the funeral home for discrimination, its defense was that it was perfectly legal to fire her because she is transgender. It even argued that her complaint should be dismissed because Aimee Stephens never worked there.
In March, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled for Aimee, stating that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that protects employees from discrimination.
That appeals court joined a growing consensus among federal courts on this issue. Five federal appeals courts, as well as dozens of lower federal courts, agree that anti-trans discrimination is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law. Important federal agencies have issued decisions or regulations that say the same thing, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor, among others.
But the Trump administration disagrees. A year ago, Attorney General Sessions declared that transgender people would no longer be protected from sex discrimination under Title VII, changing the rules for all federal programs.
The funeral home has asked the Supreme Court to review Aimee’s case, reverse the ruling in her favor, and declare that federal civil rights laws don’t protect transgender people. On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a brief with the Supreme Court explaining why it should decline review and allow the ruling to stand.
The Department of Justice also filed a brief with the court on Wednesday, in which it attacked the appeals court ruling for Aimee. While the department didn’t expressly call for the court to grant review in Aimee’s case, its sharp critique of the appellate ruling still sends a clear message that the administration opposes transgender equality.
The Justice Department’s position in Aimee’s case is part of a much larger attack on transgender people by the Trump administration. As revealed in an article in The New York Times earlier this week, the administration is considering adopting a definition of the term “sex” in federal civil rights statutes that would intentionally exclude transgender people from protection. It would withdraw existing civil rights protections from millions of people all across America, and is a shameful, hate-filled move.
But Trump and Sessions are facing a serious problem. No administrative rules, such as those the administration is reportedly considering, can override all the federal court rulings that have found anti-trans discrimination to be a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law.
The issue now sits with the Supreme Court. It should recognize the rightness of those earlier court decisions and allow the ruling in Aimee’s case to stand. Her story shows why it’s simply wrong to fire someone because they are transgender.