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Case Of Transgender Funeral Home Director Fired Over Dress Heads To Federal Court

DETROIT (WWJ) - A federal judge will hear arguments Thursday in the case of a now former Wayne County funeral home director who was fired for dressing like a woman.

Aimee Stephens, formerly Anthony Stephens, was let go from the Garden City location of Harris Funeral Homes after revealing to the owners that he was transitioning to become a woman and planned to wear women's clothing on the job.

Attorney Doug Wardlow — representing the business in the case v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — says Stephens violated the company's sex-specific dress code and that employees are simply asked to dress "in a manner sensitive to grieving family members and friends."

The funeral home, he said, did not break any laws and there was no discrimination.

"What the EEC is trying to do here is ask the court to rule in a way that no other court has ever ruled in this country," Wardlow told WWJ's Zahra Huber. "And basically that there should be a transgender exception to the rule of law that says sex-specific dress codes can be applied and that they don't violate Title VII" — which is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment.

Wardlow said Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on transgender status and that the federal government is trying to expand the scope of sex discrimination laws to cover transgender people. That's a move that he opposes.

His client, Wardlow says, is simply looking out for the best interests of the bereaved.

"The government should respect the freedom of those who are serving the grieving and vulnerable," said Wardlow. "The funeral home's dress policy is legitimate, understandable, and legal. Numerous courts have recognized that companies may differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming policies without violating Title VII."

WWJ Newsradio 950 reached out to Stephens through his attorneys who said they're not commenting at this time.

The case will be heard in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit Thursday morning.

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