BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BP)–Following the requests of several homosexual Wal-Mart employees and an investor, the nation’s largest private employer has amended its anti-discrimination policy to protect homosexual employees.
Wal-Mart Stores, with more than one million employees in the United States, is sending a letter July 2 to its 3,500 stores to inform them of the changes, The New York Times reported.
The new policy states, in part, “We affirm our commitment and pledge our support to equal opportunity employment for all qualified persons, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability or status as a veteran or sexual orientation.”
With Wal-Mart’s latest move, nine of the 10 largest Fortune 500 companies now have anti-discrimination policies protecting homosexuals, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group in Washington, D.C., that monitors discrimination policies and laws. The one company to abstain is Exxon Mobil.
The HRC also reports that 318 of the Fortune 500 companies have anti-discrimination policies favorable to homosexuals.
“It’s the right thing to do for our employees,” Mona Williams, Wal-Mart’s vice president for communications, told The Times. “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.”
Wal-Mart made the decision to alter the policy after a Seattle-based gay rights group called Pride Foundation invested in the company’s stock two years ago and proceeded to lobby for a change in the policy, The Times reported July 2. Pride Foundation and several investment management firms holding stock in Wal-Mart met as shareholders with Wal-Mart officials to discuss the policy and received a letter last week outlining the new employee protections.
Williams said investors like the Pride Foundation had a role in the decision, but the most important factor was a letter to senior management about six weeks ago from homosexual Wal-Mart employees, The Times said. The letter said the employees would “continue to feel excluded” if Wal-Mart did not change its anti-discrimination policy.
“A major argument against equal benefits, against fair treatment of employees has been taken away,” Kevin Cathart, executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a homosexual rights organization, said in The Times. He was referring to the June 26 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas sodomy law. “And so even within corporations it’s a very different dialogue today, a very different dialogue.”
Wal-Mart also revised its policy on harassment and inappropriate conduct to include sexual orientation.
News of the company’s decision to protect homosexuals comes just weeks after Wal-Mart chose to begin using blinders to cover provocative photos and language on women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire and Redbook. Weeks before that decision, the company had announced it would stop selling three racy men’s magazines — Maxim, Stuff and FHM — because they border on pornography. Wal-Mart also has policies of not carrying CDs bearing explicit lyrics warnings and requiring proof of age for purchasing mature-labeled video games.
Wal-Mart still does not provide coverage for domestic partners of its employees while 197 of the Fortune 500 companies do have domestic partners benefits, according to HRC.