January 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A Michigan funeral home that was sued over its decision to fire a transgender employee has agreed to settle the case after losing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The owners of R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which has three locations in southern Michigan, fired Aimee Stephens, an embalmer, in 2013 after she came out as transgender. Among other things, they claimed a religious right to fire Steph­ens, although that was not an issue before the high court.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, the owners’ argument failed. Ruling 6-3, the court held that Title VII of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex incudes members of the LGBTQ community.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch observed, “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what [the law] forbids.”

Stephens did not live to see the ruling. She died of kidney failure a few weeks before it was handed down. The settlement is with her estate. Under its terms, the funeral home has agreed to stop firing transgender employees, reported the Detroit News.

In addition, Harris Homes is required to develop written policies covering sex discrimination and must post a non-discrimination notice in its offices. It will also have to report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the next three years. The company will also be required to provide training on sex discrimination for its employees.

The News reported that the settlement also includes financial payments. Harris Homes will pay $130,000 to Stephens’ estate and an additional $120,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Stephens, to cover legal costs.

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