Saks Fifth Avenue shouldn’t be surprised if it sees fewer members of the LGBT community and their supporters in its stores. The retailer came under fire during a lawsuit filed by a former employee, Leyth O. Jamal, who claims she was fired from her position at one of the store’s Texas locations in 2012 for being a trans woman. Saks’ lawyers want to dismiss the suit on the basis that transgendered people are not included under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects people against employment discrimination based on sex and other factors.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice both agree that trans people are covered under the law. The CEO of Hudson’s Bay, Saks’ parent company, spoke to The New York Times about the issue, denying any wrongdoing. “In the strongest terms, I want to underscore that Saks Fifth Avenue did not discriminate against the plaintiff,” he said. “It’s preposterous to think that in any way Saks Fifth Avenue is anything but a strong advocate for L.G.B.T. rights.” Saks itself is backpedaling on its assertion that trans people are not included in the Title VII listing, while doubling down on its semantics at the same time.
Saks says it does support the LGBT community, but while it believes all people are protected from sex discrimination, Jamal’s suit is different because it covers transgender identity. Saks is going along with the decision of a few courts that have claimed trans people are excluded from this measure, in spite of the fact that several other courts have ruled differently.
The Human Rights Campaign suspended Saks’ high Corporate Equality Index score in light of these developments last week and now that Saks has essentially dug its heels in the mud, we don’t think that high rating will be restored anytime soon. HRC’s Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement, “For more than two years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has considered discrimination based on gender identity actionable. This latest development further undermines Saks’ credibility and standing with the LGBT community – indeed, its standing with any consumer committed to equality.”
[via NYT, tFS inbox]