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Supreme Court of the United States

Unelected Officials Are Threatening the 100-Year Legacy of This Family-Owned Funeral Home

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
June 26, 2019

To know Tom Rost is to love him.

Tom owns R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan, where his employees describe him as “kind,” “caring,” and “compassionate.” And those characteristics are evident in the way he lives his life.

You can often find Tom at one of the Harris Funeral Homes locations doing odd jobs to ensure everything is clean and welcoming. No task is too small. He replaces lightbulbs, plants flowers, shovels snow, and sweeps the floors. When there is a funeral taking place, Tom is stationed at the front door, holding it open and greeting people with a warm smile.

And he doesn’t stop caring for his customers after the service concludes and the last person leaves.

Tom follows up with each customer, calling to see how they are doing and if he can help them in any way. And he really means it. At one point, a widow confided in Tom that she had no way to get to the grocery store. Tom promptly sent one of his employees to buy her groceries.

A 100-Year Legacy

Tom views Harris Funeral Homes as his ministry. He feels called to serve those who are going through one of the most difficult situations in their lives – grieving the loss of a loved one.

But Tom did not always want to be in the family business of funerals. He originally wanted to work for General Motors. After working at the funeral home during his summers in college, however, Tom’s plans started to change. Eventually, he decided to go to mortuary school.

Now, Tom has been running Harris Funeral Homes for 35 years. But the business has been around much longer.

Robert and George Harris, Tom’s grandfather and great-grandfather, established Harris Funeral Homes in 1910. Later, Robert’s wife – who was one of the first women in Michigan to become a licensed funeral director – also joined the business. Tom’s uncle and father took over Harris Funeral Homes from there, and now Tom runs the business along with his son, Matthew. If you did the math, that makes Harris Funeral Homes a fifth-generation family business.

While it has changed locations and expanded over the years, the legacy of Harris Funeral Homes remains. For over 100 years, it has ministered to grieving families and friends who have lost a loved one. And it does so with excellence.

In 2011, Harris Funeral Homes was recognized by Preferred Funeral Directors International with the Parker Award for exemplary service. And in 2016, the Livonia location was recognized as the best hometown funeral home in the local newspaper.

The Customer Comes First

Providing exceptional service has always been Tom’s focus. He strives to honor God by treating every person that walks through the doors with respect and dignity.

That’s why the funeral home seeks to go above and beyond in its services.

  • It offers a grief counseling program for those who need it.
  • Employees leave a rose behind when they remove a body.
  • And the funeral home hosts an angel tree service every Christmas to honor those who died in the past year. Many families attend.

This level of service is what sets Harris Funeral Homes apart. Tom pays attention to every little detail, right down to employee conduct and dress. Each employee agrees to a professional code of conduct and a sex-specific dress code while at work to ensure that the families and friends of a deceased loved one can focus on processing their grief rather than on the funeral home and its employees.

It’s that dress code that has taken Tom all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The funeral home hired a male funeral director who promised to follow the sex-specific dress code at the time of hiring. But in 2013, nearly six years after being hired, this employee announced an intent to start dressing and presenting as a woman while working with grieving families. After considering the needs of the funeral director, other employees, and his clients, Tom couldn’t agree to that. So the government sued him for sex discrimination.

It shouldn’t have come to this. After all, Harris Funeral Homes was following existing laws, which allow small businesses to have sex-specific dress codes. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decided to take the law into its own hands – redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity.”

A change like this is drastic, with widespread consequences for everyone. It would not only harm business owners and people of faith like Tom, but also threaten privacy interests and equal opportunities for women and girls.

The federal government now agrees that it was wrong and supports Tom and the funeral home. But the ACLU continues to try to redefine the meaning of “sex” in federal law. And if it succeeds it is not only Tom, but the rest of us who stand to lose.

Stay tuned as we await a date for Supreme Court oral arguments in the case: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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