Victory! Saks Withdraws Assertion Claiming Transgender People Are Not Protected by Title VII

by Stephen Peters

U.S. Department of Justice files historic statement in the case asserting that Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people

HOUSTON, TX — In two major victories for transgender civil rights, today Saks Fifth Avenue withdrew a motion to dismiss a lawsuit in which Saks had argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a historic statement of interest in the same case affirmatively stating that Title VII covers transgender people. This is the first time that the Department has made clear that Title VII prohibits any type of discrimination against transgender people, not just discrimination based on gender stereotypes.

The case involves former Saks employee Leyth Jamal, who filed the lawsuit alleging that Saks discriminated against her for being transgender. Today Saks withdrew the motion to dismiss the lawsuit in which Saks had 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.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) - who became involved with the case following Saks’ previous incorrect assertions that Title VII protections did not cover transgender people - issued the following statements:

HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said: “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. 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.”

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

Last week, HRC and NCLR filed a joint friend of the court brief arguing against Saks’ previous assertions. 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 noted 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.

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 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.

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.


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