Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., second from right, speaks at a news conference in Washington after the Senate passed legislation outlawing workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans on Nov. 7, 2013. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Corporate America has advanced more quickly in promoting rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees than the government has legislated support for them and is increasingly creating policies to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, according to a report released Monday by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.
Just six months after the Supreme Court struck down key portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the HRC’s annual look at more than 700 major companies and law firms revealed that 91 percent of them spell out explicit protections for their employees barring sexual orientation-based discrimination.
Sixty-one percent of those companies protect their employees from discrimination based on gender identity, which the report calls “an historic high” (PDF).
“In this watershed year for LGBT equality, corporate America joins the rapidly growing ranks of public proponents of LGBT rights” wrote HRC Foundation president Chad Griffin in the report. “At the same time, (the report) reveals record numbers of major businesses updating their non-discrimination policies and benefits packages well ahead of federal mandates.”
In November the Senate approved a bill that would prohibit workplace bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. But it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives before it may be written into law.
Only 16 states — most of them located near the East and West coasts — plus the District of Columbia have moved to enact legislation at the state level that bars workplace discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, and five more states have passed laws prohibiting workplace bias based on sexuality alone. That means that employers in the other 29 states may fire or refuse to hire LGBT workers.
But the HRC says the private sector has made huge strides in the 12 years it has been taking annual stock of how companies address LGBT rights. In 2002 only 51 percent of the Fortune 500 had sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies, and just 3 percent had protections in place for gender-identity discrimination.
Today, the report said, more than two-thirds of the companies it examined offer benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees, and 28 percent offer health benefits for transgender employees.
Walmart, Hormel Foods and Wendy's International are among the companies offering same-sex benefits for the first time next year, the campaign said.
And 304 businesses earned a perfect score of 100 percent on the HRC’s rating scale, a huge jump from the 13 companies that achieved that score in 2002. Thirteen of the 20 top-earning Fortune 500 companies — including Apple, CitiGroup and JPMorgan Chase — earned 100 percent ratings; in total, 125 Fortune 500 companies achieved that rating.
HRC calculated its ratings by looking at whether a company bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whether it offers the same health and other benefits to same-sex partners as it does to opposite-sex partners of employees, whether its health insurance policies include transgender workers and whether it “positively engages the external LGBT community.”
Companies could also be docked points for a “large-scale official or public anti-LGBT blemish on their recent records,” the report said. That was evidently how Exxon Mobil, the largest company in the world, achieved a score of negative 25.
Walmart, which is headquartered in Arkansas and is the largest private employer in the country, in August said it would begin offering health care benefits to the domestic partners of its full-time employees, including same-sex partners, starting in January. So did Cracker Barrel, a restaurant chain, and discount retailer the Dollar Store, both of which are headquartered in Tennessee.
"There is no more succinct way to say we have arrived than the Walmart story," Dina Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, told The Associated Press. "The stores and restaurants that you find across strip malls and along highways in every pocket of the country and that are serving demographics that are more senior in age and more rural, cutting across what conventional wisdom would tell you, are places where you now find LGBT inclusion."
With The Associated Press