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Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s score in an annual corporate equality index was suspended after Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigations determined two transgender employees experienced discrimination and harassment because of their gender identity.

The suspension was revealed last week when the Human Rights Campaign unveiled its annual score card, which details how companies treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

The civil rights advocacy group said in its report the decision to suspend Wal-Mart's score was based on the federal commission's findings earlier this year that two complaints pointed to "significant enforcement gaps in Wal-Mart's non-discrimination policy, specifically with regards to sex and gender identity."

It was just the second time a company's score has been suspended since the index began in 2002. The suspension will remain "pending remedial steps by the company," according to the report.

"When Wal-Mart addresses the determinations by the EEOC, their company policies and practices will be assessed and given a score based on the [corporate equality index] criteria," Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign's workplace equality program, said in a statement.

The corporate equality index includes Fortune magazine's 500 largest publicly traded companies, American Lawyer magazine's top 200 revenue-grossing law firms and hundreds of publicly and privately held mid- to large-size businesses, according to the group. The Human Rights Campaign said the index serves as a guide to help businesses ensure their existing policies and benefits are inclusive of the LGBT workforce and their families.

Wal-Mart earned a top score of 100 last year and was among 517 companies to receive the maximum score, including Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc. The Human Rights Campaign said at the time Wal-Mart reached its first perfect score after adding insurance coverage for transgender employees.

Tyson logged its second-straight perfect score this year. There were a record 609 perfect scores among the 947 companies evaluated, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Wal-Mart did not address the EEOC investigations, but said in a statement the company was "proud of our work on LGBTQ-inclusive and nondiscriminatory policies."

"We're disappointed with the [Human Rights Campaign's] decision to temporarily suspend our score, which was going to be rated at 100 percent for the second year in a row," Wal-Mart said in the statement. "While we respect the HRC's work, we are confident in Wal-Mart's leading practices that support our LGBTQ communities and look forward to further educating them on our policies."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determinations cited by the Human Rights Campaign involved a transgender worker at a Sam's Club in Florida and another in North Carolina, according to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. The civil-rights organization filed complaints with the federal commission on behalf of the employees.

Jessica Robison received several promotions during her employment in Florida, but alleged she was subjected to harassment and intimidation from a supervisor after beginning a gender transition in 2014. Robison logged a compliant and alleged she was disciplined and demoted.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in July that there was reasonable cause to believe Sam's Club discriminated against Robison because of her sex and retaliated against her.

Charlene Bost alleged she faced employment discrimination at her store in North Carolina. An August decision by the commission determined Bost was subjected to discrimination and a hostile work environment because of her sex before being fired for her complaints in 2015.

Both complaints will be moving to litigation in federal court, according to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Executive Director Jillian Weiss said Wednesday that the Human Rights Campaign's equality index shows Wal-Mart is "out of step with their corporate brothers and sisters." Weiss said it's important for the company to address the issues moving forward.

"I think the bottom line is that it's important to understand that corporate policy has to reach to the shop floor," Weiss said. "So it's wonderful that Wal-Mart has adopted policies that prohibit discrimination and I totally applaud that. But in these two instances, the United States government agrees that there's good reason to believe discrimination occurred despite their good policy."

Business on 11/16/2017

Print Headline: Wal-Mart's gender-equality rating hit

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