BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE
The retail giant Walmart, which has long been the subject of criticism over its employment practices, has found a new critic in the Human Rights Campaign’s latest corporate scorecard.
The nation’s LGBT organization suspended Walmart’s score in the 2018 Corporate Equality Index, which was unveiled last week. The cited reason for the suspension was the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. agency charged with enforcing federal employment civil rights law, finding probable cause for anti-trans discrimination within Walmart in 2017.
“During the CEI survey cycle, two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determinations were made public in the cases of Jessica Robison (EEOC Charge Number 511-2015-01402) and Charlene Bost (EEOC Charge Number 430- 2014-01900),” the report says. “These determinations pointed to significant enforcement gaps in Wal-Mart’s non-discrimination policy, specifically with regards to sex and gender identity. Pending remedial steps by the company, the CEI rating is suspended.”
Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program, said the suspension will be lifted when Walmart addresses EEOC’s findings of anti-trans discrimination.
“When Walmart addresses the determinations by the EEOC, their company policies and practices will be assessed and given a score based on the CEI criteria,” Fidas said.
The suspension stands in contrast to scores Walmart has obtained before. In the 2017 index, the retail giant had a perfect score of “100” for having an LGBT non-discrimination policy, affording same-sex spousal benefits, providing health insurance that includes transition-related care for transgender employees and having an LGBT employee affinity group.
Tara Raddohl, a Walmart spokesperson, said the retailer maintains a positive environment for LGBT employees despite the suspension of its score in the Corporate Equality Index.
“We are proud of our work on LGBT-inclusive and non-discriminatory policies,” Raddohl said. “We’re disappointed with the HRC’s decision to temporarily suspend our score, which was going to be rated at 100 percent for the second year in a row. While we respect the HRC’s work, we are confident in Walmart’s leading practices that support our LGBTQ communities and look forward to further educating them on our policies.”
The EEOC findings cited in the Corporate Equality Index were the result of the two lawsuits filed by the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. The findings of reasonable cause for discrimination by EEOC means the two cases will now move forward to litigation in federal court.
One lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jessica Robison, an employee in Florida of Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. Although she was rewarded with several promotions, a supervisor allegedly subjected her to harassment and intimidation in 2014 after she began her gender transition. After filing a complaint, Robison was disciplined and demoted.
In July, EEOC ruled in Robison’s favor, finding “there is reasonable cause” to believe Sam’s Club discriminated against Robison “due to her transgender status/gender identity” and retaliated against her.
The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of Charlene Bost, who allegedly faced employment discrimination as a member service supervisor at a Sam’s Club store in Kannapolis, N.C., in her position.
In Auguest, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe Bost was subjected to unlawful discrimination and a hostile work environment because of being transgender for several years until her retaliatory firing in 2015.
Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said in a statement the suspension of Walmart’s score in the Corporate Equality Index was a positive step.
“Seven hundred fifty major companies have strong corporate policies protecting transgender people, backed up by proper enforcement procedures,” Weiss said. “We hope this will deliver the message to Walmart and others that good corporate policy is not enough. It must be accompanied by strong enforcement mechanisms, or it is mere window dressing. TLDEF will continue to bring suits on behalf of transgender people who experience discrimination in employment, education, health care access and public accommodations.”
The Human Rights Campaign has long faced criticism from progressive voices for giving Walmart high scores in the Corporate Equality Index. Most of the criticism has focused on employment practices at large in Walmart, which has been accused of thwarting efforts by employees to unionize.
The Human Rights Campaign also faced criticism for refusing to dock Walmart points in 2016 amid a class-action lawsuit filed by GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders alleging the company refused to provide same-sex spousal benefits promised to employees. The lawsuit was settled in December for $7.5 million for all employees who were affected.
Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, said in a statement the Human Rights Campaign “deserves credit” for suspending Walmart’s score in 2017, but added the LGBT group waited too long to take action.
“In the last CEI, Walmart received a perfect score despite the fact that the company had just settled a class action lawsuit brought by LGBTQ people who had been denied spousal benefits,” Davis said. “In light of this development, it is our sincere hope that HRC will take the necessary steps to ensure the CEI is an accurate measure of a corporation’s commitment to LGBTQ equality. Until the CEI includes a mechanism to ensure these policies are followed and enforced, it is impossible to consider these scores as anything other than aspirational.”
The suspension of Walmart’s score stands in contrast to the record number of high scores in the Corporate Equality Index won by other companies. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a record-breaking 609 businesses earned the top score of “100.” That’s up from 517 from last year and represents a single-year increase of 18 percent.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement “top American companies are driving progress toward equality in the workplace” as the Trump administration undermines LGBT rights.
“The top-scoring companies on this year’s CEI are not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the United States, they are applying these policies to their operations around the globe and impacting millions of people beyond our shores,” Griffin said. “In addition, many of these companies have also become vocal advocates for equality in the public square, including the dozens that have signed on to amicus briefs in vital Supreme Court cases and the 106 corporate supporters of the Equality Act. We are proud to have developed so many strong partnerships with corporate allies who see LGBTQ equality as a crucial issue for our country and for their businesses.”