WASHINGTON – Seven years have passed since Aimee Stephens came out at her workplace as a transgender woman. This resulted in her dismissal from her job and the beginning of a battle that arrived Tuesday at the US Supreme Court, which for the first time now wrestles with employment discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
In 2013, Stephens, then a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan, told her devout Christian boss Thomas Rost she is a woman, and two weeks later she was fired.
Rost said he fired her because Stephens “was no longer going to represent himself as a man,” “wanted to dress like a woman” and did not comply with the gender-specific dress code, according to court documents.WHO IS AIMEE STEPHENS?
Aimee Stephens, 58, was born a biological male under the name Anthony Stephens and grew up in a Southern Baptist family in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
In 2007, she began working at the funeral home from which she was later fired.
With nearly 20 years of experience in the sector, Stephens discovered her vocation for funeral services when she was studying to become a Baptist minister, said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which legally represents her.
Stephens knew at age five that she was a girl, grew up and married Donna, and in 2008 started seeing a therapist to discuss and explore her knowledge that she was a woman.
In 2012, at age 51, she decided to tell her co-workers she was a woman. After spending eight months working on a letter to her boss and colleagues, she came out at work about her gender identity.
“I have realized that some of you may have trouble understanding this,” Stephens wrote in the letter, posted by US media online. “In truth, I have had to live with it every day of my life, and even I do not fully understand it myself.”
In another part of the letter, published by CNN, she said: “The first step I must take is to live and work full-time as a woman” and anticipated that she would return to work as her “true self” in “appropriate business attire.”
Two weeks later she was fired, which caused Aimee and her wife to suffer financially and left her without health insurance to treat her kidney failure, according to ACLU.WHAT WILL THE SUPREME COURT CONSIDER?
The Supreme Court will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, covers gay, lesbian and transgender people.
About 20 of the country’s 50 states, in addition to the US capital, have laws against gender discrimination.
“The argument before the court is simple: when a person considers the transgender status or the sexual orientation of another person, that person is considering the sex of that person,” Omar Gonzalez Pagan, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, told EFE.
The Supreme Court will rule on the employer’s appeal, which was lodged with the highest court after the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled in March 2018 in favor of Stephens, who in the first instance had received an unfavorable ruling from a judge.
ACLU attorneys are representing this case.WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Suzanne Goldberg, a professor at Columbia University Law School, told EFE that this case is “profoundly important” because it affects the ability of LGBT people to work without discrimination.
“Allowing workplace discrimination against LGBT people would mean that employers may require employees to fit traditional gender roles and stereotypes,” she said, adding that this is “exactly what is prohibited” by laws against sexual discrimination.
For Goldberg, “the case also affects the rights of all people… to equal opportunities in the workplace.”
The professor said that LGBT people “already face significant barriers to equality at work” and she felt that without those protections there would be a “huge hole” in anti-discrimination laws that can harm workers who don’t match employers’ expectations.BUT AIMEE IS NOT ALONE
In addition to Stephens’ case, the Supreme Court has received two others:
- Gerald Bostock, who was fired after joining an LGTB-friendly Hotlanta Softball League.
- Donald Zarda, who was fired after revealing he was gay.
Although the ruling is not expected until 2020, Stephens, who must undergo dialysis for her condition, appeared before the Supreme Court Tuesday in a wheelchair as the face of a battle that promises to mobilize public opinion in the United States.