Case Detail

Case Summary

Saks Fifth Avenue and Transgender Rights

Case Number: 5-416-751, Year Published: 2018

HBS Number: KE1095

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Authors: Timothy Feddersen; Sophia Feddersen

Key Concepts

Diversity, Ethics, Human Resource Management, Leadership, Public Relations, Reputations, Social Responsibility, Society and Business Relations, Women in Business

Abstract

In September 2014 Leyth Jamal, a transgender woman, filed suit against her employer, luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. Jamal alleged that she experienced harassment from managers and other employees because of her gender identity while employed by Saks, including verbal abuse and threats of violence. At the time she filed suit, no federal, state, or local laws protected transgender employees from discrimination. However, some federal district courts had recently begun to allow such suits on the premise that discrimination based on gender identity was a form of sex discrimination. Other suits and amicus briefs brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) furthered this trend. The EEOC is the federal agency charged with investigating and supporting claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so district and appellate courts watched the EEOC's position on the application of Title VII. Socio-culturally, many Americans supported transgender rights, even as they voiced anxiety about transgender men in women's bathrooms.

This case has students assume the role of a trusted member of the executive team of Hudson's Bay Company, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue. One Friday afternoon in late December 2014, the Hudson's Bay CEO sends an email to his executive team notifying them that he has approved corporate counsel's motion to dismiss Jamal's case based on the argument that transgender people are not a protected class according to Title VII. The motion will be filed in federal court on Monday. The CEO shares that he personally believes it is preposterous for anyone to think that Saks Fifth Avenue is anything but a strong advocate for LGBT rights, but he invites executive team members to call him if they have any concerns. Members of the executive team have a responsibility to consider the broader strategic implications for the company, so students must decide if and how to respond to the CEO.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn the basic history of transgender issues and rights, up to the policies and priorities of the Trump administration; build subject matter knowledge around discrimination-related terminology, including sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity; learn how to respond to perceived disconnects between articulated corporate values and policies and corporate actions; learn how to analyze and differentiate between legal versus moral issues.

Number of Pages: 14

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Management

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Retail trade

Organization Name: Saks Fifth Avenue

Organization Size: Large