Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest private employer, will now include gay men and lesbians in its antidiscrimination policy, company officials said Wednesday. Company spokesman Tom Williams said the policy will not affect benefits, which Wal-Mart does not offer to unmarried partners of any orientation, but he said sexual orientation will be added to the company's existing diversity-awareness training programs for employees.
Williams said the policy change had been considered for months and is now in effect. It is considered an internal communication and is not being publicly released. "Our continued growth requires us to be one of the more desirable employers around, so we're clearly stating our acceptance for all of our associates," Williams said. "Otherwise, we could lose many talented employees, and we don't
The change means that nine of the 10 largest Fortune 500 companies now have rules prohibiting discrimination against gay employees, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group. The one exception is the ExxonMobil Corp.
According to a letter sent to the Seattle-based gay rights group Pride Foundation, Wal-Mart will work to ensure that all of its personnel decisions--including recruitment, hiring, training, and promotions--will not involve discrimination based on sexual orientation. The change was first reported by The New York Times.
The Pride Foundation prompted the move by threatening to bring a shareholders' resolution, said Zack Wright, board representative. "I think they came around and realized this is the right thing to do for all their employees," Wright said. "A large number of companies have already implemented this policy. It's not a great controversial step by any means."
It's a significant step because of the size of Wal-Mart and the number of stores it has in rural areas, Wright added. "This policy may be the only example of fair treatment for gay and lesbian people that some people ever see," he said.
Williams said the policy change "unfolded by itself" after discussions with employees and groups advocating the inclusion of gays and lesbians in antidiscrimination policies. He said the recent Supreme Court ruling was not a factor in the decision. "We want all of our associates to feel they are treated with respect and valued, with no exceptions at all," Williams said.
Wal-Mart Stores, based in Bentonville, Ark., is the world's largest retailer, with over 1.1 million domestic employees.