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Transgender funeral home director's EEOC suit can proceed

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A federal judge has refused to dismiss a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed on behalf of a funeral home director who allegedly was terminated because she is transgender.

The agency filed the suit, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc., against the Detroit-based firm in September 2014.

Aimee Stephens informed her employer and co-workers around July 31, 2013, that she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female and intended to start dressing as a female, according to the ruling.

She was fired about two weeks later, with the company's owner stating that “what she was proposing to do” was unacceptable, according to the ruling. The EEOC alleged in its lawsuit that the funeral home violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terminating her.

“Transgender is not a protected class under Title VII,” U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox said in his Wednesday ruling. “Thus, if the EEOC's complaint had alleged that the funeral home fired Stephens based solely upon Stephens' status as a transgender person, then this court would agree with the funeral home that the EEOC's complaint fails to state a claim under Title VII,” the ruling states.

But the EEOC's complaint also asserts Ms. Stephens was fired because she did not conform to “sex- or-gender-based preferences, expectations or stereotypes.”

”Binding 6th Circuit precedent establishes that any person without regard to labels such as transgender can assert a sex-stereotyping gender discrimination claim under Title VII … if that person's failure to conform to sex stereotypes was the driving force behind the termination,” Judge Cox ruled.

Earlier this month, a Florida eye clinic agreed to pay $150,000 to settle the other lawsuit filed by EEOC that charged discrimination against a transgender individual.