Wal-Mart To Ban Gay Discrimination

Sat. July 5, 2003 12:00 AM by 365gay.com

Exxon-Mobil remains the only top 10 Fortune 500 not to protect gays and lesbians

Seattle, Washington - Wal-Mart has agreed to include gays and lesbians in its written employee anti-discrimination policy. The discount department store chain is the nation's largest private employer.

The company made the announcement following meetings with gay shareholders. The group, led by Seattle's Pride Foundation, met last week with company officials to press for the inclusion. Pride Foundation was joined by several investment management firms which hold blocks of Wal-Mart shares.

"It's the right thing to do for our employees," said Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for communications" We want all of our associates to feel they are valued and treated with respect — no exceptions. And it's the right thing to do for our business."

Letters are going out today to Wal-Mart's 3,500 stores informing them of the change. The letter directs store managers to convey the policy change to the company's more than 1 million employees.

“This action helps ensure that Wal-Mart's gay and lesbian employees will be judged on their merits, not on their sexual orientation, said Zack Wright of Pride Foundation.

Williams said that while investors like Pride Foundation had a role in the decision, the most important factor was a letter to senior management officials about six weeks ago from several gay Wal-Mart employees, saying that unless the company changed its policy the employees would "continue to feel excluded."

Wal-Mart becomes number 9 of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies to have rules barring discrimination against gay and lesbian employees.

The exception is Exxon-Mobil Corporation, which was created in 1999 after Exxon acquired Mobil, and then removed Mobil's policy of protecting for gay and lesbian workers. At the same it it also cancelled medical benefits to partners of gay employees.

Among the Fortune 500 companies, 318 have antidiscrimination policies that extend protection to gay employees, and 197 provide domestic partners with medical coverage according to the Human Rights Campaign.

"As the largest private employer in America, Wal-Mart has sent a powerful signal to all American companies that this policy is necessary, important and good for business," said Kim I. Mills, a spokesperson for HRC.

"We hope this further opens the way to making such policies a standard business practice."

Kevin Cathcart, the executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, credits last week's Supreme Court ruling on gay rights with helping Wal-Mart reach its decision.

"A major argument against equal benefits, against fair treatment of employees, has been taken away," said Cathcart. "And so even within corporations it's a very different dialogue today, a very different dialogue."

Wal-Mart said it had no plans to extend medical benefits to unmarried couples, but Pride Foundation says it will continue to lobby the company to do so.

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This article originally appeared on 365gay.com. Republished with permission.