Saks Fifth Avenue has settled a discrimination lawsuit in Texas federal court brought by a former employee who filed a discrimination and retaliation suit against the high end department store last year. Plaintiff Leyth Jamal, 23, alleged in her complaint, which was filed in September 2014, that her managers at a Saks store in Houston constantly referred to her as a man, instructed her to use the men’s restroom and pressured her to change her appearance to a more masculine one, despite being aware of her transgender identity. Moreover, she claims she ultimately fired in July 2012, after she brought a complaint related to the harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit gained major media attention after Saks' legal team moved to have the case dismissed based on their assertion that “transsexuals are not a protected class” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In a follow-up statement, Saks stressed that it “believes that all persons are protected against sex discrimination under Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It said, however, that the plaintiff had based her case not on sex discrimination but on the issue of gender identity and transgender status, which it said some courts have ruled fall outside Title VII’s mandate. Saks will follow that precedent, the retailer said, “unless or until it is modified by the courts or the legislature.”
On the heels of that filing, Saks Fifth Avenue, faced with an immense amount of media scrutiny, withdrew its motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case affirmatively stating that Title VII does, in fact, provide protection for transgender individuals. For those who aren't sure: the language of Title VII includes protection for individuals based on "race, color, sex, religion and national origin." Protection for transgender individuals, which not historically part of the scope of Title VII, arises from the way the term "sex" is construed.
Well, as of this week, attorneys for Saks and plaintiff Leyth Jamal submitted a stipulation to dismiss her complaint with prejudice, signaling that the parties have come to a resolution of the matter outside of court. While the terms of the settlement agreement will most likely remain confidential, the case has certainly shed light on the reading of Title VII and its treatment of transgender individuals. The Supreme Court has not yet determined whether Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination covers gender identity, but the E.E.O.C. has ruled that Title VII prohibits transgender discrimination.