A highly publicized workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by a fired trans woman against Saks Fifth Avenue has caught the attention of New York’s top lawman. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sent a letter to Saks informing the store he will investigate its treatment of transgender employees.
Saks is owned by Hudson’s Bay, a retail store in Ontario, Canada, but Saks is headquartered in New York City, where the plaintiff in the case, Leythe Jamal, now lives.
Until July 2012, Jamal worked at a Saks in Houston, Texas, where she says managers repeatedly referred to her as a man and required her to use the men’s restroom. Jamal also says that although managers were aware of her transgender identity, they pressured her to make her appearance more masculine.
In his letter, Schneiderman demands documents from Saks detailing its policy on the rights of New York employees to file harassment or discrimination complaints, as well as an outline of how it trains New York employees on the issue of workplace harassment.
The letter from the attorney general makes it clear that claims made by Saks lawyers attempting to dimiss Jamal’s lawsuit won’t fly in the Empire State. The store’s Houston attorneys asserted discrimination based on gender identity was not prohibited by federal law.
Although gender identity protection has not been enacted by Congress or decided by a federal judge, Schneiderman’s letter stated both the U.S. Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have recognized transgender employees are protected from harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and the New York City human rights law prohibits sex discrimination based on gender identity.
The New York Times reported Saks confirmed it had received the letter.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Jamal plan to file a response in court to Saks’ motion to dimiss. A document provided to the media shows how attorney Jillian Weiss will counter the defendants’ claim that Jamal’s case has no merit because she is transsexual.
Weiss will argue discrimination based on gender, gender expression and gender identity is indeed sex discrimination, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as interpreted by the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Editor's Note: the reporter manages media relations for the plaintiff's attorney, Jillian Weiss.