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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 30, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 05
Saks Fifth Avenue admits Trans people are protected by civil rights laws
Section One
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Saks Fifth Avenue admits Trans people are protected by civil rights laws

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In what HRC (Human Rights Campaign) calls 'two major victories' for the Transgender community, Saks Fifth Avenue admitted that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does protect Trans workers and the U.S. Department of Justice filed court documents stating definitively that Title VII applies to Trans people.

The swanky department store is being sued by a former employee who claims Saks discriminated against her because she is Trans.

Leyth Jamal, a Transgender woman, worked at the company's Houston Galleria store. She says that Saks fired her because she is Trans, and that the firing is a violation of Title VII which prohibits discrimination of the basis of sex.

In addition, Jamal says, she endured a hostile work environment, retaliation, and breach of contract while employed at Saks.

In their defense, Saks did not focus on the facts of the case, they filed a motion to dismiss Jamal's suit on the grounds that Transgender workers are not, in fact, protected under Title VII. Saks' attorneys also claimed that the company is not legally bound by its own nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity.

Contrary to Saks' claims, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Labor Department, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have all found that Title VII does indeed protect Trans workers.

In fact, the Justice Department filed papers in the case stating explicitly that 'Discrimination against an individual based on gender identity is discrimination because of sex,' and therefore barred by Title VII.

On January 26, Saks finally admitted its legal theory was wrong and withdrew its motion to dismiss the suit. Now, they say, they will concentrate on showing that the facts of the case are not as Jamal says they are.

'Saks is confident that, as this matter proceeds, the facts will demonstrate that Plaintiff's allegations are wholly without merit, that Saks did not discriminate against Plaintiff, and that Saks' policies and procedures are effective in ensuring an inclusive and diverse workplace free of discrimination and harassment,' the company said in a statement.

HRC and NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights), which got involved in the case after Saks tried to misrepresent federal civil rights law, welcomed the developments.

'Today's historic statement from the Department of Justice makes it very clear that transgender people are indeed protected by Title VII from workplace discrimination. Saks also made the right decision by correcting its dangerous course of legal actions that sought to completely undermine those established protections,' HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

'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.'

'We applaud Saks for correcting its position and recognizing that it has a legal obligation to treat transgender workers equally,' NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said.

'We are also grateful to the Department of Justice for clearly stating that federal law prohibits all forms of workplace discrimination against transgender employees. The Department's filing today is historic and will have an enormously positive effect not only in this case, but in other cases across the country.'

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined in Macy v. Holder (2012) that discrimination based on an individual's gender identity is sex discrimination and thus constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2014, the EEOC filed complaints in federal courts in Florida and Michigan against two separate companies accused of discriminating against Transgender employees, Amiee Stephens of Michigan and Brandi Branson of Florida.

In December of 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will no longer assert that 'Title VII's prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination.).'

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