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Aimee Stephens, transgender woman at center of Supreme Court case, dies at 59

Stephens was the first transgender person whose civil rights case was heard by the Supreme Court. The high court is set to decide on her case imminently. 
Image: The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Aimee Stephens' case over whether a federal civil rights law that bars job discrimination on the basis of sex protects transgender people.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in October in Aimee Stephens' case over whether a federal civil rights law that bars job discrimination on the basis of sex protects transgender people.Paul Sancya / AP file

Aimee Stephens, the Detroit-area funeral home worker whose firing led to a Supreme Court case that could decide the employment rights of millions of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, died Tuesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which was working on her case. She was 59.

Stephens had kidney disease for several years and required lengthy dialysis treatments. According to a GoFundMe set up last week to fundraise for her end-of-life costs, being fired from her job in 2013 contributed to “several years of lost income” that her family has been unable to recoup.

Stephens spent her final days in at-home hospice care surrounded by family, according to the ACLU. She is survived by her wife, Donna Stephens, and daughter, Elizabeth.

After coming out to her employer as transgender in 2013, Stephens was fired. She later sued and her case, Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home, eventually became part of a combined LGBTQ employment rights case that was heard by the justices in October.

The Supreme Court is set to issue its ruling in the case soon.

“Aimee is an inspiration,” said Donna Stephens in a statement shared by the ACLU. “She has given so many hope for the future of equality for LGBTQ people in our country, and she has rewritten history. The outpouring of love and support is our strength and inspiration now.”

Chase Strangio, an ACLU lawyer and a member of Stephens' legal team, said, "Aimee did not set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one, and our country owes her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people and her dedication to our transgender community."

The ACLU told NBC News that Stephens repeatedly said she wanted the case to continue if she died, and it appears she will get her wish.

Samuel Bagenstos, law professor at the University of Michigan, said that since Stephens’ original suit sought damages, her estate would automatically inherit her position in the suit and it would be considered “live” by the high court unless otherwise notified.

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