A federal judge has approved a settlement between the estate of the late Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case on workplace bias, and the Michigan funeral home that fired her after she tried to transition while on the job.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox approved the terms of the settlement between Stephens’ estate and her former employer, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which agreed to pay $130,000, including more than $63,000 in back pay with interest that Stephens was owed plus $66,000 in damages.
The consent decree also says the funeral home chain, which has three locations across southeast Michigan, must pay an additional $120,000 to the ACLU Foundation for legal costs and attorney’s fees, according to The Detroit News.
Stephens, a former embalmer and funeral home director from 2007 to 2013, sued the funeral home chain for sex discrimination in response to being fired after telling her boss, Thomas Rost, that she was transitioning from male to female and planned to begin wearing women’s business attire to work.
Rost raised personal religious objections to Stephens’ transition, arguing that Stephens’ transition would be a distraction, and demanded that she continue to adhere to dress code standards for male employees.
He ultimately fired her, leading Stephens to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined in 2014 that she had a right to pursue claims of sex-based discrimination and discrimination based on her gender identity.
She then filed a lawsuit against Harris Homes in a case that worked its way through the federal courts before ultimately landing before the Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 decision last June, the high court determined, in an historic ruling, that Stephens had indeed been discriminated against, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the basis of her transgender status, and by extension, her sex, for failing to conform to preconceived or stereotypical notions of gender-based behavior.
Unfortunately, Stephens, who would have turned 60 next week, passed away last May due to complications from kidney disease, about a month before the high court’s ruling.
“We are pleased that all sides were able to come to an agreement regarding damages and attorney fees,” Jay Kaplan, an attorney for Stephens with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said in a statement. “The settlement of this case is bittersweet in that Aimee passed away before matters could be resolved.”
As part of the settlement, Harris Homes must pay each of the women it has employed since September 2012 who dealt with customers a stipend equal to the average amount it spent on its male employees for clothing, totaling about $3,700. The funeral home must provide clothing benefits to any employees going forward, equal to the benefit that it previously bestowed only on male employees.
Harris Homes has also agreed to provide training within the next 90 days to all of its employees on sex discrimination, including sex-based stereotyping and discrimination against transgender individuals, develop written policies regarding sex discrimination and how to report it, pledge not to retaliate against employees who report discrimination, and post a notice of its nondiscrimination policy, and how it comports with federal law, inside its funeral homes.
The company must submit reports to the EEOC on a regular basis over the next three years. Those reports must include copies of its new policies, confirmation of its revised clothing benefits, a list of employees who attended the cultural competency trainings, and the details of any complaints filed by employees alleging workplace discrimination.
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