Saks Fifth Avenue finds itself in some legal hot water as Leyth O. Jamal, a former employee, says she was fired from the company in 2012 for being a trans woman. Jamal says she was also harassed through her tenure at the company before being let go because of her orientation.
Were you thinking, “Wait, that sounds illegal?” Sure you were. But don’t tell that to Saks. Saks wants to throw away Jamal’s suit because it believes that trans people are not protected against such discrimination under the law. The retailer cites Title VII of 1964’s Civil Rights Act, which bars companies from discriminating against employees based on sex (as well as other factors). Under the title, “Unlawful Employment Practices,” the text reads that it is illegal “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Saks believes that this does not include transgendered people and it is therefore within its legal right to terminate Jamal based on her trans status. Unfortunately for Saks, Slate notes that the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission consider trans people protected under this law as do several courts, so technically, yes, it is quite illegal to discriminate against Jamal in this way.
The Human Rights Campaign has responded by suspending Saks’ Corporate Equality Index score, which was quite high until this debacle. Saks’ lawyers have dug their feet into the perceived legality of the decision, as has the company, whose SVP for marketing and public relations told BuzzFeed, “We do not comment on matters before the court however, we feel it is important to state that it is Saks Fifth Avenue’s position that we did not discriminate in any way, and the allegations are not supported by the facts known to Saks.”
Saks previously prided itself on being “supportive” of its LGBT employees, but if you’re discriminating against a part of that group, you can’t truly call yourself an ally or supporter. If cisgender homosexuals are covered under the law, logically transgendered people should also be afforded the same protection.
But you know what they say about common sense…