In 2013, a funeral director who had been known as Anthony Stephens wrote to colleagues at a Michigan funeral home, asking for patience and support.
“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” the letter said. “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,” she wrote. “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!”
Ms. Stephens had worked there for six years. Her colleagues testified that she was able and compassionate.
“He was a very good embalmer,” one said. “He was very, very thorough. Had obviously had a lot of practice prior to coming to the Harris Funeral Home. Families seemed very pleased with his work. He did a good job.”
Two weeks after receiving the letter, though, the home’s owner, Thomas Rost, fired Ms. Stephens. Asked for the “specific reason that you terminated Stephens,” Mr. Rost said: “Well, because he was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”
Mr. Rost also said he did not want to address Ms. Stephens as Aimee. “I’m uncomfortable with the name,” Mr. Rost said, “because he’s a man.”
The case went to court, and Ms. Stephens won in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Discrimination against transgender people, the court ruled, was barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.
“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the court said. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”
by Adam Liptak, NYTimes.com, November 12, 2018
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