Amy Stevens, the transgender woman at the center of a major employment rights case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, died in Detroit on Tuesday at age 59.
Amy Stevens was the first transgender person whose civil rights case was heard by the Supreme Court, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented her. Her case concerns the question of whether federal law prohibiting employment discrimination applies to transgender employees.
“Amy didn’t set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one,” the ACLU said in a tweet confirming her death. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people, and her dedication to the trans community.”
After years of working as an embalmer and funeral home director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Livonia, Mich., Stephens informed her boss in 2013 that she was transitioning from male to female. She had been living as a transgender woman outside of work, and planned to follow the company’s dress code for women on the job. A short time later, Stephens was fired.
Backed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she sued her former employer. In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against the funeral home owners, saying that LGBTQ people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states employers cannot fire, refuse to hire or otherwise penalize people because of their sex.
The funeral home owners appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the civil rights laws were not intended to protect gay and transgender people. Additionally, they said, the funeral home was within its rights to insist that Stephens adhere to its dress code for male employees during work hours.