Transgender woman at center of blockbuster LGBTQ Supreme Court case dies

Aimee Stephens via the Detroit News.

Aimee Stephens, the transgender woman at the center of the Supreme Court's blockbuster case concerning whether LGBTQ workers are covered by federal anti-discrimination law, has died according to her lawyers. She was 59.

Stephens was suffering from complications related to kidney disease and she died at her home in Detroit with her wife, Donna Stephens, at her side.

"Aimee did not set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one," ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio said in a statement. "And our country owes her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people and her dedication to our transgender community."

Stephens' death will not change the status of the case, which was argued before the justices in October with a ruling still pending.

The case marks the first time the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the civil rights of a transgender individual.

Stephens had worked for six years as a funeral director before announcing that she was transitioning in 2013.

"I have known many of you for some time now," Stephens explained in a letter to her coworkers before stating her decision to have gender reassignment surgery.

"The first step I must take is to live and work full-time as a woman," Stephens said. "I will return to work as my true self," she said, adding, "In appropriate business attire."

Not long after, she was fired. Her boss at the time, Thomas Rost, believed that "coming to work dressed as a woman was not going to be acceptable."

Stephens sued, arguing that she had been terminated on the basis of her transgender status.

Rost testified in the lower court that Stephens was fired because she was "no longer going to represent himself as a man." (Rost refused to address Stephens with feminine pronouns)

"In discharging Ms. Stephens for being transgender," her lawyer, David Cole, the national legal director of the ACLU, argued the funeral home "contravened Title VII's core premise: that employees should be judged on their merit, not their sex."

He also argued that the funeral home violated the law by firing Stephens for "failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes."

A lower court ruled in her favor, holding 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."

How the Supreme Court rules in her case could have critical implications for the LGBTQ community. While the four liberals may side with Stephens, it is unclear if one of the five conservative justices will join them.

"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your kindness, generosity, and keeping my best friend and soulmate in your thoughts and prayers. Aimee is an inspiration," said Donna Stephens in a statement Tuesday.

"She has given so many hope for the future of equality for LGBTQ people in our country, and she has rewritten history," she continued. "The outpouring of love and support is our strength and inspiration now."

By Ariane de Vogue and Paul LeBlanc, CNN via The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

The Gayly. 5/13/2020 @ 2:52 p.m. CST.