Equality Project partners Trillium Asset Management, Pride Foundation, Walden Asset Management, and ISIS Asset Management announced today that Wal-Mart Stores will amend its equal employment opportunity policy and explicitly bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. Wal-Mart’s decision is in response to nearly two years of discussion between the company and the Equality Project partners that represent almost $100 billion under management.
With this development, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer with 1.5 million associates worldwide, joins 318 other Fortune 500 companies in protecting their lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees. Federal law allows discrimination based on sexual orientation for private employment and only 14 states and the District of Columbia ban it.
The adoption of this inclusive policy is important given the recent Supreme Court ruling, Lawrence v. Texas, that acknowledged the profound cultural change in America regarding sexual orientation. Wal-Mart’s policy will protect its one million U.S. employees, which the company proudly claims reflect America’s demographics. Wal-Mart is based in Arkansas which lacks any jurisdiction with sexual orientation protection laws; its decision strongly signals that protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual employees is now standard business practice.
“Last week the Supreme Court struck down laws that made criminals of lesbians and gay men. Those laws provided a convenient excuse to ignore discrimination in the workplace, even while public opinion had moved on. Wal-Mart’s decision indicates its recognition that the changing legal and social context for lesbians and gay men cannot be ignored,” said Shelley Alpern, assistant vice president at Trillium Asset Management.
“As investors, we know this policy is good business. Over 90% of Fortune 100 companies and a majority of Fortune 500 companies have already made this sensible change. Strategic benefits include hiring from the widest talent pool, and improving employee morale, productivity and retention. This will help Wal-Mart avoid falling behind its competition,” said Elizabeth Elliott McGeveran, Vice President at ISIS Asset Management.
The shareholders began meeting with Wal-Mart in September 2001, asking them to include both sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. On June 27, 2003 Pride Foundation received a letter from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc stating that the company has amended its Equal Employment Opportunity policy to include sexual orientation.
Wal-Mart’s move symbolizes a dramatic change in corporate America. Fortune 500 companies are recognizing that to remain competitive in the marketplace they have to have a written commitment to fair standards for all of their workers. Wal-Mart’s adoption of the nondiscrimination policy is notable, as the Equality Project partners – ISIS, Pride, Trillium and Walden – did not have to file a shareholder resolution with the company. Unlike other companies such as ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart chose to build a private and productive dialogue with shareholders.
“As the largest private employer in the world, Wal-Mart’s decision provides an especially important precedent for other corporations. We urge the few major companies that lack inclusive policies to follow Wal-Mart’s lead,” stated Kenneth Scott, portfolio manager at Walden Asset Management, the socially responsive investment division of United States Trust Company of Boston. “Unfortunately, ExxonMobil stands isolated in its stubborn refusal to make its policies fully inclusive. Wal-Mart’s decision also sends a strong, positive message to leading Arkansas employers, such as Tyson Foods and ALLTEL, that have yet to adopt fair policies.”
“Wal-Mart’s recognition of sexual orientation is an important first step toward equality. I look forward to continuing our discussion and eagerly anticipate the day when they will also include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies,” said Marsha Botzer, Pride Foundation Board Member.