DETROIT, Mich. — Attorneys for a funeral home in Michigan are seeking the dismissal of a federal lawsuit over the firing of a male funeral director for his desire to dress as a woman on the job.
According to reports, Anthony Stephens, who now goes by the name Aimee Stephens, was hired as the funeral director and embalmer for RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes in 2007. In 2013, Stephens informed his employer that he had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and would therefore desire to wear a woman’s suit for work.
Owner Thomas Rost, a professing Christian who also serves on the board of directors for Salvation Army of Metro Detroit, has a company dress code in place, which states that males must wear dark suits and white shirts.
Rost reportedly provides two suits for male employees in accordance with the dress code, and would also provide the business jacket and skirt should a woman be hired as well.
“R.G. employees understand that the dress code requires funeral directors to wear company-provided suits,” legal argument filed in court outlines. “Rost sincerely believes that he would be violating God’s commands if he were to pay for or otherwise permit one of RG’s funeral directors to wear the uniform for members of the opposite sex while at work.”
Because Stephens sought to wear female clothing, which is a violation of the dress code, and because Rost did not feel comfortable with providing a skirt suit due to his Christian convictions, Stephens was let go. He took the matter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued Rost with the aid of the ACLU for gender discrimination.
The EEOC argued in court that since Rost would not otherwise fire an employee for living in sin, his actions to fire Stephens were unbalanced and selective.
“Rost does not impose his own Christian beliefs on employees, stating that he would not terminate an employee because he or she had sex outside of marriage, had an abortion or committed adultery. The business climate causes Rost to act against his religious ideals: the practice of cremation instead of holding a funeral,” it contended.
But Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) asserted that the dress code served an important purpose: to provide a respectful image to the clients with which employees interact.
“R.G.’s dress code is driven by the unique nature of the funeral industry, which requires utmost sensitivity to the needs of grieving families—including the need for an environment free from distraction,” it said in court briefs. “The dress code forbids male funeral directors from wearing the female uniform because allowing them to do that would attract undue attention to themselves and disrupt the grieving process for the clients.”
On Thursday, ADF asked the federal court to dismiss Stephens’ case. It had been denied its motion for dismissal last year.
“R.G.’s dress code and its decision to dismiss Stephens were motivated by legitimate business needs and the interests of the grieving people that R.G. serves,” the religious liberties organization wrote. “Thus, neither R.G.’s dress code nor Stephens’s discharge violates Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination.”
“The government should respect the freedom of Americans who are serving the grieving and vulnerable,” ADF Legal Counsel Doug Wardlow also said in a statement. “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, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment.”