June July 2016
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Texas Trans Woman Sues Saks Fifth Avenue Over Alleged Harassment

Texas Trans Woman Sues Saks Fifth Avenue Over Alleged Harassment

Leyth O. Jamal, a transgender woman living in Texas, has filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Saks Fifth Avenue, alleging that she was exposed to a hostile working environment at the luxury department store's Houston-area location, reports local news station KPRC

In a statement from her attorney, Jamal describes being harassed and belittled by coworkers, being forced to use the men's restroom, withstanding intentional and repeated use of male pronouns by her coworkers, and ultimately being fired. Following this alleged mistreatment, she filed a claim of workplace discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964, including protecting workers from sex-based discrimination.

In Jamal's case, the EEOC found that there was reasonable cause to believe that she had faced antitrans discrimination, which led to Jamal filing a federal lawsuit. But this week Saks' attorneys filed a motion to dismiss her claim in federal court, arguing that trans identity is not protected under Title VII, and therefore Jamal cannot sue. The luxury retailer also stated — all while misgendering her during the proceedings, Jamal says — that Jamal should pay the legal bills Saks incurred to fight her case.

The days where Saks' claim could stand may now be relegated to the past. Recent announcements from the federal government have made it clear that discriminating against a coworker or employee for being trans constitutes sex discrimination. Two years ago, the EEOC made a binding decision in Macy v. Holder that determined that transgender workers are protected by the law. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal prosectuors would now take the position in litigation that Title VII includes protections against discrimination based on gender identity.

As Jamal awaits the court's decision on Saks' motion to dismiss, her attorney, Jillian T. Weiss, pointed out the irony of Saks' position on protecting trans employees, given that the company has recently lauded itself for outstanding LGBT equality in the workplace. 

“Saks is touting its high score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, including its gender identity protections, and then arguing that its trans employees aren't entitled to expect it to deliver on that promise,” Weiss explained. One year ago, Saks achieved a score of 90 out of a possible 100 for its same-sex partner benefits coverage, gender identity protections, and other steps toward LGBT inclusion in its first year being indexed by HRC. 

Jamal says this stance does not at all mirror her experience of working at Saks. “I just wanted to do my job, but I was met with resistance at every step of the way." 

In April, Hoston's Mayor Annise Parker released a draft of a sweeping Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as HERO, that protects anyone living, working in, or visiting the city from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment based on, among other characteristics, their gender identity. However, the law has been delayed by detractors until a mid-January appeal hearing.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the court where Saks filed its motion to dismiss Jamal's claim. That motion was filed in the same federal court where Jamal filed suit, not with the EEOC. The Advocate regrets this error, which has been corrected in the copy above. 

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