On January 20, 2015, NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas supporting former Saks Fifth Avenue employee Leyth Jamal, who filed a case alleging that Saks discriminated against her for being transgender. In a request to dismiss the lawsuit, Saks argued‚–contrary to contemporary case law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice‚–that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers.
The brief emphasized the broad legal consensus that Title VII protects transgender employees, and noted that the nation’s top law firms‚–including Saks’ own counsel in the case‚–had publicly advised employers that discrimination against transgender workers violates Title VII. The brief also explained that tens of thousands of employers have taken proactive steps to comply with the law by adopting non-discrimination policies that explicitly protect transgender workers.
In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined in Macy v. Holder that discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination and thus constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two years later in 2014, the EEOC filed complaints in federal courts in Florida and Michigan against two separate companies accused of discriminating against transgender employees.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also announced in 2014 that the Department of Justice will no longer assert that “Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination.)”
On January 26, 2015 Saks Fifth Avenue withdrew a motion to dismiss Jamal’s lawsuit, in which Saks had argued that Title VII does not protect transgender workers, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a historic statement of interest in the same case affirmatively stating that Title VII covers transgender people. This was the first court filing in which the Department made clear that Title VII prohibits any type of discrimination against transgender people, not just discrimination based on gender stereotypes.
On March 4, 2015, Jamal and Saks reached a settlement in the dispute.