Last month, a trans woman named Leyth Jamal sued Saks Fifth Avenue, where she had previously worked. Jamal said that she had been harassed and eventually fired because she’s trans; for example, she was asked to “separate her home life from her work life” and present in a masculine way, and she says she was terminated for speaking up about her mistreatment.
Instead of proving that they did not harass Jamal, Saks is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed “because transsexuals are not a protected class under Title VII.” That is patently false; the Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and many lower courts have upheld that trans people are protected from workplace discrimination.
Saks’s motion, filed Dec. 29 in the Southern District of Texas, denies the allegations but also counters that “Although Plaintiff’s discrimination claim is also couched in terms of ‘gender’ discrimination, Plaintiff’s Complaint makes clear that the gravamen of Plaintiff’s claims is discrimination based on Plaintiff’s status as a transsexual,” and thus not covered by the Civil Rights Act.
Saks’s attorney also uses the word “[sic]” (a term generally used to indicate that a quote includes some kind of error) when referring to Jamal’s gender, writing that Jamal claimed she was mistreated “because of ‘her [sic] gender’” at work. While Saks, according to the Human Rights Campaign, reports having a nondiscrimination policy that includes gender identity protection, Saks’s brief states “it is well-settled that policies in an employee handbook do not create a contract.”
Asked whether Saks indeed maintains that transgender people are not protected under the Civil Rights Act, and whether it has any issue with its attorney using “[sic]” to refer to Jamal’s gender, Saks Senior Vice President Kathleen Ruiz e-mailed that the company did not comment on pending litigation, but “we feel it is important to state that it is Saks Fifth Avenue’s position that we did not discriminate in anyway, [sic] and the allegations are not supported by the facts known to Saks.”
As an interesting side note, Saks had previously received a high score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates businesses based on how they treat LGBT employees, largely because it reportedly does have a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. But Saks has now made it clear that the policy means nothing. Since this news, HRC has suspended the company’s rating and led the campaign to get Saks to make a change ASAP.
This is slimy as hell. It wasn’t enough to dishonor the agreements they created with their workers and harass a trans employee; they had to mock and deny her gender in legal documents, too? Slimy, slimy, slimy.