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Discrimination After Death: Funeral Home Sued for Refusing to Cremate Gay Man

By George Khoury, Esq. on May 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A recent lawsuit filed by a widower, and the deceased's nephew, alleges that a Mississippi funeral home refused to provide agreed upon transportation and cremation services due to the sexual orientation of the deceased.

Prior to the deceased's passing, specific arrangements were made weeks in advance, and confirmed 24 hours prior to death. Specifically, the funeral home agreed to transport and cremate the deceased. However, it is alleged that once the deceased passed, and the funeral home received the paperwork, the nursing home where the deceased passed was informed that the funeral home "did not deal with their kind."

It was clearly understood that this meant the funeral home did not provide services to LGBT individuals. The funeral home has denied the allegations and expressed surprise that anyone from their organization would say or do such a thing.

Funeral Service Agreements

Death is a sensitive matter filled with emotions, and unfortunately grieving individuals are often susceptible to being taken advantage of in their time of grief. Under the law, funeral and cremation service providers have a heightened duty of dealing with customers fairly, openly, and honestly. State laws usually regulate these providers in regards to pricing, clear invoicing, and providing grieving individuals with the full range of service options at varying price points.

Funeral service providers can be held liable by the next of kin if they mishandle a deceased's body. While claims for mortuary negligence are possible, there can also be breach of contract claims. Interestingly, breach of contract claims stemming from funeral service agreements, unlike any other contract claims, can subject a defendant to emotional distress damages, and potentially even punitive damages if there is intentional bad conduct.

What Is Discrimination?

When a funeral home discriminates on any basis, it may be difficult for a grieving individual to take any action whatsoever. As in the Mississippi case, the next of kin were left to scramble to make alternative arrangements. Objecting to discrimination is not easy, even when one's not grieving the loss of a loved one. While many states have laws prohibiting discrimination in the provision of any services to the public, in some states these rights are not extended to the LGBT community. Fortunately, in states that do not have civil rights protections for the LGBT community, both intentional torts and negligence claims may be possible.

In the heat of the moment, it may be wise to seek out the least emotional family representative to speak with the funeral home to discuss the matter. However, in these situations, time is usually of the essence, and as such, it is simply pragmatic to find the next best reasonable alternative and allow the grieving process to continue.

If there is sufficient time to contact a lawyer, they may be able to help negotiate a resolution with a refusing service provider. Additionally, your state may have an organization that oversees funeral service providers that may be able to help. However, regardless, if funeral home engaged in discrimination, an attorney may be able to help you seek justice after the fact.

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