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Court Rules In Favor Of Fired Transgender Garden City Funeral Director

DETROIT (WWJ) - It's being called a big win with national significance for transgender rights.

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a woman who was fired by a Garden City funeral home after she disclosed she was transitioning from male to female, and began dressing like a woman.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home discriminated against director Aimee Stephens, formerly Anthony Stephens, by firing her in 2013.

Attorney Dan Korobkin with the American Civil Liberties Union says management never denied that Stephens was fired because she informed officials of her decision.

"In too many workplaces all of the country, coming out as trans is still seen as a fire-able offense," Korobkin told WWJ Newsradio 950's Sandra McNeill. "That's exactly what was experienced by Amy Stephens in this case."

"So this ruling," he said, "affirms that that kind of firing is unlawful."

The owners of the funeral home, who did not immediately return a call for comment, argued in court that transitioning to another gender is against their beliefs.

"That could be a religious belief that someone has, but at this same time most people understand that it's wrong to decriminalize, and it's wrong to fire someone from their job that they're doing perfectly well just because they're transgender."

Attorney Doug Wardlow, who represented the business in the case v. the EEOC said 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."

As far as the dress code is concerned, the EEOC learned the funeral home provided clothing to male workers dealing with the public but not females. The appellate judges ruled that it was reasonable for the EEOC to investigate and discover the "seemingly discriminatory clothing-allowance policy."

In a 2016 interview with WWJ, Wardlow said his client was simply looking out for the best interests of the bereaved, adding that "Numerous courts have recognized that companies may differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming policies without violating Title VII."

The appellate court decision returns the case to a federal judge who had dismissed the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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