Same-sex couple Ariel Owens (R) and his spouse Joseph Barham walk arm in arm after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Local companies: Offering domestic partner benefits is good business

Equality survey lists three as high scorers

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CINCINNATI -  

No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the issue of same-sex marriage, a growing number of companies across the nation already treat gay employees and their partners as if they're legally wed.

In Greater Cincinnati, the Procter & Gamble Co., Frost Brown Todd LLC and Macy's Inc. lead the way by offering health and medical insurance coverage to partners of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, according to the 2013 Corporate Equality Index published by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

All three companies offer other protections, too, such as parity in other benefits and policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. All three scored 90 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's rating system, the highest scores among locally based businesses in the study.

"For many, many years we have offered equivalency," said Kimberly Amrine, director of diversity and inclusion for Frost Brown Todd, which has about 450 attorneys across five states and nine cities. "We think that it is the right thing to do for the people who work here."

Company officials say it's also the right thing to do for business.

"We offer competitive benefits packages to all of our employees, including domestic partner benefits (since 2001)," P&G spokeswoman Mary Ralles said in an email. "Our aim is to attract and retain a diverse workforce."

And offering inclusive benefits helps attract even straight young professionals, Amrine said.

"Personally I have seen students who are looking at law firms who look at the Corporate Equality Index even if they are not part of the LGBT community," she said. "They see it as one of the signs of an inclusive culture."

Corporate attitude changing

Recent polls indicate a growing number of Americans support the idea of same-sex marriage. Some surveys even find a majority supports the right for same-sex couples to legally wed. Executives at the Human Rights Campaign argue that corporate America, encouraged by the group's index, has paved the way for that change in attitudes.

"For the first time in history, the majority of the Fortune 500 have sexual orientation and gender identity protections," said Deena Fidas, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign's Workplace Project.
That's critical, she said, because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers still can be denied a job or fired in 29 states.

"By working deliberately with corporate America on issues of fairness and equality, it's changed the reality for millions of U.S. workers," Fidas said.

And that's changed broader public perceptions as more and more people work with someone who is openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, said Gary Wright, a former P&G executive who co-founded GABLE, the company's gay and lesbian employee resource group.

"There's just been greater and greater acceptance of gay and lesbian, bisexual and now transgender employees in the work place," Wright said. "It's kind of normalized that for the rest of the population."

Some local companies say ratings are wrong

The index doesn't cover all local companies. Surveys are sent to the Fortune 1000 and the nation's 200 largest law firms, Fidas said. Some companies that aren't in either of those categories ask to be included in the index, she said. In other cases, the Human Rights Campaign researches companies and gives them a rating if the businesses have for years declined to answer the survey.

Some local companies say that has resulted in inaccurate information.

The lowest-rated local companies in the index are American Financial Group and Western & Southern Financial Group, both of which scored 0 out of 100.

An American Financial Group spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment. But a spokesman for Western & Southern said the company didn't participate in the survey, and the Human Rights Campaign's information is inaccurate.

"Western & Southern Financial Group is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate against any person with respect to employment because of such person's race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship status, disability or genetic makeup," Michael Laatsch, the company's vice president of public relations and corporate communications, said in an email.

"We provide a workplace where all associates are treated with dignity and respect, and all employment decisions are based on merit and competence.  Our consistently low turnover rates are testimony to the fact that Western & Southern Financial Group has a wonderful culture that offers a positive and valued workplace for our associates."

Ashland Inc. and Omnicare each scored 15 out of 100 on the index. The report said both those companies have policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but don't meet any of the other criteria.

Ashland spokesman Gary Rhodes said that isn't accurate for the Covington-based specialty chemicals company, either.

"We provide benefits to domestic

partners and have for many years," he said in an email.

Leveraging diversity

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., or TEMA, doesn't have its own rating on the Corporate Equality Index. But it also offers benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners and most of the other benefits tracked by the Human Rights Campaign, said Craig Grucza, TEMA's vice president of human relations.

For TEMA, he said, it's a matter of being consistent with Toyota's guiding principles: Continuous improvement and respect for people.

"We think that leveraging the diversity of our experiences and perspectives is essential to meeting the needs of the customer," Grucza said. "We have a very broad customer base, and we think that through our leveraging diversity, it's an effective way to appeal to our customers."

No locally based company has a perfect score of 100 on the Corporate Equality Index. To get that score, companies must also offer "transgender inclusive health insurance coverage," meaning health insurance benefits that cover the cost of sex-change operations.

Companies in Ohio and Kentucky that scored 100 on the index include Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in New Albany, Ohio, Brown Forman Corp. in Louisville, Cardinal Health Inc. in Dublin, Ohio, Lexmark International in Lexington, Ky., and Limited Brands Inc. and Nationwide, both headquartered in Columbus.

Time Warner Cable Inc. also scored 100. The company is based in New York City but has operations here.

Wright said that even when he worked at P&G, the topic of benefits for transgender employees was more sensitive than for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers.

"Even within the GLBT community itself, there are some people who were not quite comfortable with including transgender equality along with other changes," he said.

At Frost Brown Todd, the issue is discussed with the firm's insurance carrier, Amrine said. The firm has yet to decide if it will offer those benefits.

And P&G reviews its benefits package "on an annual basis, to ensure we are maintaining a competitive package and meeting the needs of our employees," Ralles said in an email.

Fidas said she thinks Cincinnati's top-scoring companies will eventually rate a score of 100. Since starting the Corporate Equality Index in 2002, the organization has twice raised the bar, making it more difficult for companies to get a perfect score.

"Historically, there has been significant leadership by Cincinnati companies like Macy's," she said. "I have a lot of confidence that Macy's and the other historically 100-scoring companies will be there again."
 

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