John M. Becker

HRC Smacks Saks Over Troubling Court Filing

Filed By John M. Becker | January 08, 2015 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans discrimination, CEI, Corporate Equality Index, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, Saks Fifth Avenue, Title VII, workplace protections

HRC-Logo-thumb-260x247-14760.jpgThe Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT organization, is taking action against Saks Fifth Avenue after the luxury retail giant tried to get a transgender discrimination lawsuit dismissed by arguing that anti-trans discrimination is not illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reports:

HRC is suspending Saks' largely positive score from its Corporate Equality Index, a ranking of companies' LGBT-related policies. The move comes less than two weeks after Saks & Co. told a court that a discrimination lawsuit -- filed by Bilerico alumna Dr. Jillian T. Weiss on behalf of a transgender former employee -- should be dismissed because "transsexuals are not a protected class under Title VII" of the historic civil rights law.

Saks made the argument in a case brought by Leyth Jamal, a transgender woman who worked for Saks in Texas and was fired in 2012. Although there apparently is some dispute over the facts that led to Jamal's termination, at this point in the litigation Saks simply asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed because, the company argues, discrimination against transgender people is not illegal -- not "a cause of action" -- under the 1964 law.

This argument totally disregards the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have both come to the exact opposite conclusion -- that Title VII's prohibition of discrimination based on sex does cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity, including transgender status -- and as Geidner notes, so have multiple appeals courts.

Deena Fidas, HRC's Workplace Equality Program director, told BuzzFeed that the group finds Saks's arguments "hugely concerning," and that the retailer is "publicly undercutting the applicability of its own policies reported in the CEI".

"The policies our CEI advances are not window dressings for any company to prop up or disregard in the face of individual allegations of misconduct," Fidas told Geidner. (Click here for BuzzFeed's full report.)

Kudos to HRC for taking this strong stand.

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