March 20, 2014: During the last quarter of 2013 Trillium Asset Management (Trillium) filed a shareholder resolution with National Fuel Gas Company (NYSE: NFG) asking the company to include “gender identity or expression” in its written non-discrimination policy. It was the first time that Trillium filed this resolution with NFG. The Security and Exchange Commission requires that shareholder resolutions receive a minimum of 3% in the first year in order for shareholders to re-file the next year.
Trillium’s resolution received 33.6% of shareholder votes – 11x the percentage needed to re-file.
Trillium introduced the resolution at NFG’s annual meeting on March 13, 2014. Our statement is below:
“Mr. Chairman, members of the Board, fellow shareholders: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. I am Randall Rice from Trillium Asset Management, an investment firm based in Boston, MA. Today, I’m representing our client, The Social Justice Fund Northwest (The Fund).
Trillium has worked with The Fund to create an investment policy whereby ownership of equities, including stock in National Fuel Gas, is consistent with its financial objectives.
National Fuel Gas is held in accounts across our investment firm, with our clients holding 64,927 shares at the close of business, Tuesday March 11th.
To be clear: The Fund holds stock in National Fuel Gas Company in order to meet its long term investment objectives and not for the purpose of promoting a social agenda.
I am here to introduce item #4 on your Proxy Statement; a proposal to amend the company’s written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression and to take concrete action to implement the policy.
This Company’s economic success is important to The Fund and to our firm.
It is in Trillium’s interest — and that of The Fund — to ensure that companies in our portfolio develop and implement inclusive workplace policies which explicitly prohibit discrimination. We believe that these companies have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from the widest possible talent pool.
Gender Identity non-discrimination is a matter of equal employment opportunity. ‘Gender Identity’ simply relates to the gender role that a person claims for her or himself – which may or may not align with his or her physical gender. ‘Gender Expression’ is how a person behaves, appears or presents him or herself with regard to societal expectations of gender.
In response to our shareholder proposal, the Board indicates that implementation of the proposed policy protecting employees from discrimination would be very difficult. Contrary to that assertion, the Corporate Equality Index, which is published by the Human Rights Campaign, reports that 61% The Fortune 500 has successfully implemented nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity or expression. These companies include energy sector peers Apache, BP, and Chevron and corporate neighbors in New York State, including Verizon, Consolidated Edison and American Express.
These companies know that inclusive workplace policies can lead to a stronger corporate culture and increased employee satisfaction which also positively relates to stock performance.
The Board says that it believes that existing Equal Opportunity laws offers adequate protection to employees. We respectfully disagree. The company has operations in a number of states, each of which has different employment discrimination policies. As the board is also aware, no federal law currently protects employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
ISS Proxy Advisory Services, which is the leading provider of proxy voting advice for investors, has recommended that our shareholders vote in favor of this proposal, stating that:
‘The addition of such a policy would benefit shareholders by establishing the company as an inclusive workplace. It could also enhance the company’s ability to attract and retain talent, and could help the company avoid potential controversies and liabilities.’
Our employees deserve the protection of non-discrimination policy that includes gender identity and expression.
I not only to urge fellow shareholders to this proposal, I also invite our company directors to meet with us to discuss this important issue.