Walmart's Perfect Equality Index Rating Suspended by HRC Over Harassment of Trans Employees
By Mila Madison
Walmart had received a perfect rating last year after they implemented changes to make the company more LGBTQ+-friendly, including adding insurance coverage for medically necessary healthcare for transgender employees in 2016.
The HRC has cited the reason for the suspension was that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. agency that enforces federal civil rights law, found probable cause for anti-transgender discrimination within Walmart in 2017.
Both discrimination cases took place within Walmart’s subsidiary Sam’s Club. The first case in question was that of Jessica Shyne Robison, a longtime employee in Tampa and Bradenton Florida, where the EEOC found that Sam’s Club subjected her to adverse terms and conditions of employment including taking disciplinary action, forcing a demotion, and creating a hostile working environment. Robison was also denied medically necessary coverage based on the fact that she was transgender. Walmart later removed their transgender healthcare exclusion as of January 1st 2017.
In the second case, Charlene Bost, an employee at Sam’s Club in Kannapolis, North Carolina, claims she was harassed and ultimately fired from her position as a cashier after she began transitioning. After Ms. Bost transitioned, co-workers and supervisors began discriminating against her for being transgender. She was repeatedly subjected to a barrage of hostilities on the job, which included being wrongfully disciplined and repeatedly misgendered.
According the report by HRC, they found “significant enforcement gaps in Walmart’s non-discrimination policy, specifically with regards to sex and gender identity.” Walmart’s rating will continue to be suspended until they take “remedial steps” to addresses the concerns raised by the EEOC.
In response, Walmart issued a statement via email:
"We are proud of our work on LGBTQ-inclusive and nondiscriminatory policies. 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."
This year’s Corporate Equality Index found that 58% percent of Fortune 500 companies now offer transgender-inclusive medical benefits while 83% now include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. The Corporate Equality Index is a report published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as a tool to rate American businesses on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors.
The CEI is not without its critics. Organizations such as Pride at Work have previously argued “the CEI should paint an accurate and complete picture about companies’ policies and practices when it comes to LGBT equality, but has fallen woefully short of this standard.” Others have claimed the HRC’s methods do not go far enough. Though some companies are receiving a 100% rating, many skirt around their policies. For example not offering employees enough hours to receive the transgender-related healthcare while the company is still getting a 100% rating.
Pride at Work released the following statement upon learning that Walmart had their rating suspended.
“We applaud TLDEF for their extraordinary work representing transgender Walmart employees who have been mistreated by the company and thank them for their efforts to get Walmart’s score in the CEI suspended. Pride at Work has, for years, pointed out the flaws in the CEI’s scoring model because it doesn’t consider the lived experience of the working people employed by these corporations. A policy that isn’t enforced – or that is enforced haphazardly – is not really a policy an employee can count upon.
“While HRC deserves credit for doing the right thing in this case, it is unfortunate that so many LGBTQ people had to face discrimination at the Walmart’s hands before they took 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.
“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 strongest way to enforce workplace protections for LGTQ people is with a contract where employees can negotiate a fair return for their work, rather than relying on corporate-sponsored policy and enforcement mechanisms.
“As always, we stand ready to assist HRC in this effort. We believe the CEI can be made better and that it could become a true indicator of corporate commitment to the dignity and respect of LGBTQ working people.”