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Shareholder resolution advances LGBT rights

UUA backs resolution urging major defense contractor to defend its employees against discrimination.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
6.13.11

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Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and CFO, is urging corporations to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and CFO, is urging corporations to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. (Courtesy UUA)

In its continuing effort to persuade corporations to adopt policies protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees from discrimination, the UUA has assisted in a shareholder resolution urging a major defense contractor to protect its workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

At the annual shareholder meeting of KBR Inc. in Houston on May 19, 61.6 percent of shareholders voted in favor of the resolution. KBR, a defense services contractor, is the largest contractor for the U.S. Army and a top-ten contractor for the Department of Defense. Unlike many U.S. corporations that have adopted policies to protect employees from harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, including 88 percent of Fortune 500 firms, KBR has no such policy.

The Rev. Mark Edmiston-Lange, co-minister of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, presented the resolution on behalf of the New York City Pension Funds. The NYC Pension Funds is a major shareholder in KBR, holding 1.2 million shares, for a combined asset value of approximately $44 million. The UUA and the NYC Pension Funds have been working in partnership to bring shareholder resolutions to urge public companies in which they own stock to adopt more progressive policies.

Because the NYC Pension Funds has a limited travel budget, the UUA often arranges for local Unitarian Universalists to present resolutions at shareholder meetings. Edmiston-Lange presents several resolutions each spring at Houston shareholder meetings. He was very gratified by the overwhelming margin by which the shareholder resolution passed. Resolutions proposed by shareholders and opposed by management, as this one was, rarely achieve majority votes. “It came as a real shock to me that it passed at all,” he said.

Edmiston-Lange relishes his role in urging corporations to do the right thing. “We already have enough people who are thinking up ways to make injustice flourish,” he said. “Silence itself always has tremendous amounts of power, so it’s imperative not to be silent.”

Tim Brennan, treasurer and chief financial officer of the UUA, was also gratified by the large majority of shareholders who voted for the resolution. Ending gender identity discrimination in corporate America is a priority of the UUA in its shareholder advocacy. For the past several years, Brennan says, the Association has been asking companies that already have policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation to add additional policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Brennan said that he will use the overwhelming margin of the KBR shareholder vote to urge other companies to amend their own corporate policies. One company in particular that he is hoping to influence is Verizon, which has resisted adding policies against gender identity discrimination. Brennan is currently drafting a concerned-shareholder letter to the Verizon CEO to “urge them along,” he said.

The UUA has been part of successful campaigns to push other companies to adopt non-discrimination language. This year, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Lowe’s both added policies prohibiting discrimination based on an employee’s gender identity or expression, Brennan said. Last year, the UUA was part of an effort that successfully persuaded The Home Depot and Travelers Insurance to adopt similar policies.

The comptroller of New York City released a statement in support of the NYC Pension Funds’ successful shareholder resolution at KBR. “A defense company should defend its employees from discrimination,” Comptroller John C. Liu said. “We’re pleased that a majority of shareholders agree that all KBR employees have the right to feel safe and respected in the workplace. The burden is now on KBR to respond to the demand of the majority of its investors.”

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