The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan represent Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman and funeral home director, in a lawsuit against her former employer. We intervened on her behalf after a District Court decision granting a motion for summary judgment in August 2016 was appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Aimee Stephens had worked for nearly six years as a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes when she informed the funeral home’s owner that she is a transgender woman and planned to start dressing in appropriate business attire for a woman. She asked for understanding and support. Instead, the owner fired her two weeks later, explaining that it would be "unacceptable" for her to present and dress as a woman. After we assisted Aimee to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC sued the funeral home for sex discrimination in the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in September 2014. We filed an amicus brief in support of the EEOC in the District Court.

In August 2016, the District Court dismissed the claim, stating that the EEOC had proven sex discrimination but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided the Funeral Home an exemption from Title VII. In October 2016, the EEOC appealed the decision.

On January 26, 2017, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Aimee Stephens because of Ms. Stephens’s concerns that her interests might no longer be adequately represented by the EEOC under the new presidential administration. We asked to join the case for her to ensure that her interests are protected as the case progresses and to establish that employers cannot use religion to justify discrimination against transgender employees.

The Court of Appeals granted our motion on March 27, 2017 finding that “[t]he EEOC’s recent actions imply that the new administration will less aggressively pursue transgender rights” and that even though “Stephens’s fears that the EEOC will not support her case or withdraw from her case have yet to crystallize, the totality of the circumstances supports permitting her to intervene.”

Update (3/7/2018): The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes unlawfully discriminated against Aimee Stephens when it fired her after she told her employer that she would begin presenting as a woman because she is transgender. The ruling affirms that transgender individuals are protected by federal sex discrimination laws, and that religious belief does not give employers the right to discriminate against them. The decision reverses the lower court’s decision, which held that religious belief was sufficient to exempt the employer from anti-discrimination laws.

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