The National Center for Lesbian Rights reported today (Monday, Jan. 26), that Saks Fifth Avenue has withdrawn a motion to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee on the grounds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers. In addition, an NCLR spokesman noted, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed an historic statement in that same case declaring that Title VII does, indeed, protect trans people.
This is the first time the DOJ has stated without a doubt that Title VII prohibits any time of discrimination against transgender people, not just discrimination based on gender stereotypes.
Saks’ action and the statement from the DOJ are both connected to the lawsuit filed by Leyth Jamal, a trans woman, who claims that she faced extensive discrimination and was eventually fired from Saks in Houston because of her gender identity. NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign became involved in the case after Saks filed its brief saying trans worker are not covered under Title VII.
In a statement announcing that the company was withdrawing the motion to dismiss, Saks officials again denied having discriminated against Jamal:
“We have decided to withdraw our motion to dismiss because important concerns about transgender rights under the current law are overshadowing a clear case of employee misconduct. Our position is, and always has been, that it is unacceptable to discriminate against transgender individuals. Saks does not, and will not, tolerate discrimination and legal strategy should not obscure that bedrock commitment. We did not discriminate against this former Associate. And we want to see all individuals protected under the law.”
Saks said Jamal and another former associate were fired for using “inappropriate and offensive language on the selling floor” in front of a customer. The other person fired does not identify as LGBT, the Saks statement said.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC, said, “We are pleased that the case can now be resolved on the merits of the claims and not a sweeping negation of basic Title VII protections.” And NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter credited Saks with “correcting its position and recognizing that it has a legal obligation to treat transgender workers equally.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012 ruled in Macy v Holder that discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination and so constituents a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed complaints in federal courts in Florida and Michigan in 2014 against two separate companies accused of discriminating against trans employees (Aimee Stephens and Brandi Branson). And last December, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex “does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination).”