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The shocking allegations of the Saks Fifth Avenue transgender harassment and discrimination lawsuit

On September 30, 2014, a female transgender former employee filed a hostile work environment, discrimination, and retaliation lawsuit against Sax & Company.

Leyth Jamal claims that she was subjected to discrimination, harassment, and a hostile working environment based on her gender, gender identity, and gender expression.

Jamal was originally hired by Saks as a Selling Associate at its Saks Off 5th outlet store in Katy, Texas in April 2011 and was transferred to Saks’s full-line store in Houston, Texas in March 2012.

After allegedly being subjected to transgender harassment and discrimination, Jamal submitted a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July 2, 2012, requesting an investigation based on sex discrimination. On July 21, 2012, Jamal amended to her EEOC charge to include retaliation because she was fired ten days after filing her original EEOC charge.

Leyth Jamal Sax Fifth Avenue transgender discrimination lawsuit

Leyth Jamal

The EEOC sent a letter of determination to Jamal on February 12, 2014, which stated: “Based upon the evidence, the Commission concludes that Charging Party was subjected to intimidation and harassment based on sex (male), and because of failure to conform to stereotypical male behavior in the workplace, in violation of Title VII. Further, the Commission concludes that Respondent has an unlawful policy or practice which denies employees access to restroom facilities consistent with their gender identity, in violation of Title VII.”

Conciliation failed, and the EEOC sent a Notice of Right to Sue on July 9, 2014.

The following are the detailed allegations that Leyth Jamal made in her transgender harassment and discrimination lawsuit complaint against Saks & Company:

  • Saks was aware of Ms. Jamal’s non-traditional gender, gender identity, and gender expression at the time she was hired.
  • In January 2012, Ms. Jamal’s job title was changed to Contemporary Sales Associate and her pay structure was changed to commission sales.
  • About a year after commencing work with Saks, Plaintiff applied for a Selling Associate position at Saks’s Houston, Texas full-line store, where the volume of sales could dramatically increase her income potential.
  • After being interviewed, Ms. Jamal was offered a position at the Houston, Texas full-line store, which she accepted. Ms. Jamal transferred on or about March 26, 2012.
  • At Ms. Jamal’s employee orientation, shortly after transferring to the Houston location, she spoke with Melissa Mullen, Manager of Women’s Contemporary, and Carol Taylor, HR Manager, requesting to use the female restroom, and to be referred to using female pronouns. They said they would check store policy.
  • Ms. Jamal was required to use the men’s restroom. As a result, she was constantly misgendered with male references. Misgendering is the practice of intentionally using incorrect gender referents (e.g. pronouns, titles, and names) in describing or conversing with a known transsexual or trans person. Ms. Jamal alleges that the motivation behind the misgendering in her case is to communicate the belief that the subject is not truly a member of their post-transition gender and/or to express contempt for their gender identity and gender expression.
  • Shortly thereafter, Mullen confronted Ms. Jamal regarding a complaint that she had used the men’s restroom.
  • Manager Carol Taylor asked Ms. Jamal to change her appearance to a more masculine one, stating that she should separate her home life from her work life. Ms. Jamal was also told by management that she should not wear makeup or feminine-style clothing.
  • Management’s lack of support of Ms. Jamal’s gender, gender identity, and gender expression began to shape her interactions with her co-workers and managers, allowing many continued inappropriate comments by co-workers and managers over many months regarding Ms. Jamal’s gender, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • For example, Daryll Smith, a Selling Associate, repeatedly asked, commented, and patronized Ms. Jamal in front of customers and colleagues. Among other things, he asked if she was a prostitute. When Ms. Jamal became upset at Smith’s comments, Smith said, “What is ‘he’ going to do?” On one occasion, Smith got into a verbal altercation on the sales floor with Ms. Jamal in front of several co-workers. He threatened to “beat Leyth up” and “rip out ‘his’ hair extensions.” Smith believed he could physically assault Ms. Jamal and continue to work at Saks because a previous physical altercation had happened in the past at Saks, and the associate was still allowed to work.
  • On a separate occasion, Ms. Nkuku told Cameron Chamblee, Selling Associate, regarding Ms. Jamal, “Well, I don’t care for ‘him’ and appreciate the way ‘he’ acts and ‘his’ behavior towards everyone.”
  • According to Mr. Chamblee, “[I] witness[ed] continuous verbal hostility and discrimination towards Leyth which in turn has directly affected ‘his’ sales performance in our work environment since the original date of hire.”
  • In addition, Lauren Pray, Selling Associate, witnessed “Leyth having difficulty working due to a hostile work environment,” “being harassed,” “and also threatened.”
  • Furthermore, Dandrea Richmond, Selling Associate, also witnessed the harassment and hostile environment that Ms. Jamal faced at Saks: “It starts throughout the store with management and trickles down to employees . . . . I have also seen ‘him’ be harassed by coworkers in instances where ‘he’ has been threaten [sic] to get ‘his’ ‘ass’ whipped after work . . . I have heard other employees slander ‘his’ name in front of other employees as well as clients which potentially hurts ‘his’ brand and clientele. . . . In turn, I have seen this take a dramatic affect [sic] on ‘his’ health and ‘his’ financial well-being.”
  • Ms. Jamal complained to store management about the harassment in writing, but no action was taken. In response to her complaints, Ms. Jamal was accused of engaging in “disrespectful” conduct by walking away from co-workers who made such comments, and “rolling her eyes.”
  • Ms. Jamal had one or two performance reviews, which indicated no problem with her work, and, in fact, she was told that she was the number two seller out of twenty employees, and that she was on her way to being a “million dollar seller.”
  • Ms. Jamal was placed in certain departments and/or portions of departments known to generate lower sales, specifically to inhibit her sales.
  • There was no formal, documented discipline against Ms. Jamal of any kind.
  • On June 27, 2012, Ms. Jamal was accused by the store of having a conversation with a coworker, with inappropriate content. Ms. Jamal did not, in fact, have any conversations with inappropriate content.
  • Ms. Jamal made a complaint to the United States Equal Opportunity Commission on July 2, 2012, about harassment based on her gender, gender identity, and gender expression. Ms. Jamal was terminated on July 12, 2012, ten days after bringing a complaint to the EEOC.
  • The basis for Ms. Jamal’s termination was an alleged conversation with another associate that allegedly contained inappropriate content. Ms. Jamal did not engage in any conversation with inappropriate content. The employer’s investigation of this alleged conversation was unreasonably, improperly, and recklessly performed.
  • The store’s identification of Ms. Jamal was based on a conversation with a customer who had allegedly heard an inappropriate conversation between two associates. The store’s investigation showed inconsistencies of fact and lack of factual detail such that Defendant could not have reasonably believed that Plaintiff was known to be the person who had participated in the alleged conversation. Other co-workers on the floor did not hear any inappropriate conversation.
  • Ms. Jamal was terminated prior to the employer speaking to the other associate allegedly involved in the conversation. The other associate, who was not in the protected category, was not terminated immediately, and was allowed to continue to work until on or about July 16, 2012.
  • Other employees not in the protected category had inappropriate conversations in front of customers, similar to those alleged to have occurred with Ms. Jamal. These conversations were witnessed by Ms. Jamal and other store associates. Store management was aware of these inappropriate conversations.  No action was taken against the other employees, whereas action was taken against Ms. Jamal for the same type of violation.

This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note that a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt, and it represents only one side of the story.

The shocking allegations of the Saks Fifth Avenue transgender harassment and discrimination lawsuit
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