NCLR and HRC to the Court: Discrimination against Transgender Employees Violates Civil Right Act

by Stephen Peters

Two of the nation’s top LGBT civil rights organizations file joint brief in transgender employee’s federal discrimination case against Saks Fifth Avenue

HOUSTON, TX — Yesterday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas supporting former Saks Fifth Avenue employee Leyth Jamal, who has filed a case alleging that Saks discriminated against her for being transgender.  In a request to dismiss the lawsuit, Saks argued—contrary to contemporary case law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice—that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers. 

In the joint brief, NCLR and HRC argue against Saks unfounded assertions through three important points:

·      The Nation’s Leading Law Firms That Represent Employers Widely Recognize That Title VII Prohibits Discrimination Against Transgender Employees

·      Implementing Protections For Transgender Workers Is Neither Burdensome Nor Difficult.

·      Industry Leaders And Small Businesses Recognize That Protecting Transgender Employees Is Good For Business

There is a broad legal consensus that Title VII protects transgender employees and the nation’s top law firms—including Saks’ own counsel in this case—have publicly advised employers that discrimination against transgender workers violates Title VII.  The brief also notes that tens of thousands of employers have taken proactive steps to comply with the law by adopting non-discrimination policies that explicitly protect transgender workers.

The joint brief concludes: “In sum, both the nation’s leading law firms that advise employers and the nation’s business community widely recognize that Title VII protects transgender employees and have acted accordingly to update their equal employment policies to comply with that requirement – at little or no cost, and to the benefit of both employers and employees.”

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “Courts across the country have held that Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people.  Discrimination because a person has changed his or her sex is sex discrimination, just as discrimination because a person has changed his or her religion is religious discrimination.  Saks’ position that the law does not protect transgender workers is indefensible and dramatically out of step with the nation’s leading businesses.”

Added HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow: “HRC has long helped employers adopt workplace policies to comply with the requirements of Title VII and to make their offices more inclusive of transgender employees.  Most employers, including the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, have recognized that protecting transgender workers is neither burdensome nor difficult.  In fact, industry leaders recognize that protecting transgender employees is good for business and allows them to recruit the best and brightest workers.”

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined in Macy v. Holder 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.)”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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