By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com January 06 2012 6:00 AM ET
Equifax, the nation’s oldest credit reporting agency serving millions of consumers, has agreed to adopt an equal opportunity policy prohibiting discrimination because of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in response to action from New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
DiNapoli’s office provided The Advocate with a copy of the letter Equifax sent in response to the comptroller’s filing of a shareholder resolution in November. The comptroller had asked the company to implement a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy, and the parties entered into a dialogue that generated the following agreement.
“Equifax, Inc. will revise its written equal opportunity policy to expressly prohibit discrimination on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” wrote Dean C. Arvidson, the company’s senior vice president, deputy general counsel and corporate secretary, in the letter, dated December 1, 2011. “The revised policy will be incorporated into our Code of Ethics (The Equifax Business Ethics and Compliance Program) and the Code as amended will be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as soon as practicable as an exhibit to a Form 8-K filing.”
As sole trustee of the $146.5 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds the pension assets of more than 1 million active and retired government employees, the comptroller is responsible for managing the fund, a role that includes making investment decisions. In years past, DiNapoli and his predecessors have wielded their clout as one of the world’s largest institutional investors to confront issues such as unfair employment practices in the United States and apartheid in South Africa.
Currently, the comptroller is in the process of filing shareholder resolutions on equal opportunity policies with 15 Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, including 13 new filings and two refilings, the latter to ExxonMobil and American Financial. The comptroller’s office reports that it has reached agreements with 22 companies in the past two years to adopt an antidiscrimination policy for the first time, with some agreements encompassing only sexual orientation and others including sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Equifax deserves praise for adopting an anti-discrimination policy that will enshrine the value of merit over prejudice," said Comptroller DiNapoli in a statement. "This agreement is yet another example of the positive results that the New York State Common Retirement Fund has achieved by engaging with companies to promote diversity and sustainable business practices. Companies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression recognize the benefit of drawing from the widest pool of talent possible to grow their business."
According to the Equifax website, the Atlanta-based company employs approximately 7,000 people in 15 countries across North America, Latin America, and Europe, with a total of $1.5 billion in annual revenue. The company maintains information on hundreds of millions of credit holders worldwide through products such as the reports used by lenders to determine consumer creditworthiness.
The policy change makes Equifax the only one of the so-called big three credit bureaus to explicitly mention “gender identity and gender expression” in its nondiscrimination policy. A spokesman for Experian, headquartered in Dublin with approximately 15,000 employees in 40 countries including the United States, said that the company’s equal employment opportunity policy is “inclusive of transgender employees,” and referred to the following excerpt.
“Experian is committed to providing equal employment opportunity to all persons without regard to race, color, age, gender, ancestry, religion, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, marital status, medical condition, pregnancy, disability, veteran status, or any other basis prohibited by federal, state or local law.”
TransUnion, the smallest of the three credit bureaus, employs around 3,000 people in 25 countries. A spokesman referred to the following policy on diversity and nondiscrimination.
“TransUnion values and seeks a diverse workforce,” states the policy of the Chicago-based company. “We are committed to enhancing our diversity and demonstrating our inclusive environment to customers. With opportunities available equally throughout TransUnion, applicants and associates are evaluated on the basis of job qualifications — not race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, marital status, citizenship status, sexual orientation or any other protected status.”
Federal law in the United States does not ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It remains legal to discriminate against job applicants and employees on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states, and in 34 states on the basis of gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
HRC publishes the annual Corporate Equality Index, which reports that despite the patchwork of state laws, private employers have implemented policies that make protections and benefits for transgender employees the most dramatically improved indicator of workplace equality over the past decade. The 2012 survey of hundreds of the nation’s largest businesses, which did not include the three credit bureaus, found that 80% of participants now include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy, compared to 5% of companies surveyed in 2002.