Remembering Aimee Stephens, Plaintiff In Major LGBTQ Rights SCOTUS Case

Supermajority Education Fund

May 14, 2020

On Tuesday, Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in a potentially groundbreaking case on whether LGBTQ+ workers are covered by federal anti-discrimination legislation that is currently before the Supreme Court, died at her home in Redford, Michigan, outside of Detroit. She was 59 and died from complications of kidney failure. Survivors include her wife, Donna Stephens, and their daughter, Elizabeth.

Stephens, a former funeral director, was fired from her job in 2013 after she announced in a letter to her colleagues that she would be living and working as a woman. She’d worked at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes for six years; two weeks after receiving the letter, the funeral home’s owner, Thomas Rost, fired Stephens. 

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” Stephens’ letter to her colleagues read. “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. 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!”  

After being fired, Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued Stephens’ employer. The case went before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati in March of 2018. The Court ruled that discrimination against transgender people was barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.

The funeral home challenged that decision, and in October 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a set of cases—of which Stephens was one—about whether LGBTQ+ people qualify under Title VII. The Court’s decision is still pending. 

“Aimee showed great courage in bringing this case and sharing her story, even though it was often painful for her to be in the spotlight,” Shannon Minter, National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director, told Supermajority News. “One way activists can honor Aimee’s memory is to follow her example by sharing our own stories and the realities of our lives, including the many ways we are harmed by discrimination. Another is to join the fight to pass state and federal laws protecting transgender people from discrimination. No matter how the Supreme Court decides Aimee’s case, it is critical that we continue to push for a federal law that clearly and expressly prohibits discrimination against transgender people in employment, health care, education, housing, and public accommodations.”

Minter added that the best way to get involved in this continued fight is to join local, state, and national LGBTQ advocacy groups, stay up-to-date on pending legislation and reach out to your elected officials in the meantime.