HRC Names Worst Companies for LGBT Employees

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Written by Cliff Dunn

According to the latest numbers from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, an unprecedented number of U.S.-based businesses have earned the organization's top ranking as "Employers with Corporate Equality Index rating."

HRC, the nation's largest lobbying and political action organization for LGBT rights, lists in its just-released 2010 rankings 305 major U.S. businesses that earned the top rating of 100%.

That number is up from 260 in 2009, in spite of the nation's continuing economic downturn.

HRC calls the Index "the premier benchmark for businesses to gauge their success on LGBT inclusion against competitors." The yearly survey looks at corporate treatment of GLBT individuals employed at hundreds of the nation's largest companies.

Criteria for the Index's evaluations include whether discrimination is prohibited on the basis of sexual and gender identity, and whether same-sex partners are eligible for health insurance benefits.

Also considered are diversity training, in-house resource groups for GLBT workers as well as a company's advertising and marketing campaigns.

Gay business leaders say the numbers reflect shifts in attitudes and economics.

"I have seen a lot of changes in the industry," said David Feinberg, Senior Vice President and South Florida District Manager for Northwest Savings Bank. "Banks would have never placed ads in gay publications 20 years ago," he said. Times have changed. "Our financial institution is very active in the GLBT community."

This year's record 305 businesses employ over 9.3-million full-time employees; each one earned perfect scores.

At the GLCC opening this past Friday at Equality Park, Wachovia and Wells Fargo Banks were primary sponsors.

Not every company included in the survey demonstrated high degrees of inclusiveness or fairness, and many placed low—way low—in Index scoring.

Auto parts giant AutoZone placed ninth-worst, another company that lost major points for not providing health coverage to same-sex partners or prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, recently purchased by billionaire Warren Buffett, tied for fourth worst with an equality index score of 20. The company lost points by not extending health benefits to same-sex partners and not prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.

Restaurant and freeway tradition Cracker Barrel was third worst with a score of 15. The chain does not provide partner benefits, require diversity training that includes sexual orientation, or prohibit discrimination based upon gender. (This may help to explain in part the origin of the name "Cracker" Barrel.)

And the world's arguably most evil company, Exxon Mobil, tied for worst with an Index score of 0. The mega-corporation neither provides health benefits to same-sex partners nor does it prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

George Castrataro, a Wilton Manors-based attorney who helped establish the Broward Human Rights Initiative and who remains active in cases involving sexual orientation discrimination, says the Index is a reminder that there's still a long way to go.

"I believe that while the Index is a very valuable tool in offering insight as to those companies that have policies favorable to the GLBT community, we must also understand that GLBT individuals across the country continue to face discrimination, harassment, retaliatory conduct in even the most progressive workplaces," Castrataro says.

He adds that, "we are making enormous progress however, strong, proactive anti-discrimination legislation at the county, state, and federal level is essential in our journey toward equality in the workplace."

Cliff Dunn has over 20 years of broadcasting and journalistic experience. He lives in Wilton Manors.