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Wal-Mart among firms rating high on equality index

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. improved its treatment of LGBT employees over the past year, nudging the retail giant closer to companies such as Apple Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the Human Rights Campaign said.

Wal-Mart scored 90 out of 100, up from 80 last year, in HRC’s 2015 Corporate Equality Index, which judges companies on five benchmarks, including their nondiscrimination polices and commitment to equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers, as well as diversity and inclusion.

“We are committed to fostering an inclusive work environment for our more than 2 million associates around the world,” Kevin Gardner, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas- based Wal-Mart, said in an e-mail.

Goldman Sachs and Apple were among the record-high 366 companies that scored 100 this year, as was Starbucks Corp., which improved from a score of 90 on the 2014 survey, HRC said. In 2012, 189 companies scored 100 in HRC’s report. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who last month announced he was gay in a Bloomberg Businessweek essay, noted on Twitter that Apple has scored 100 percent 13 years in a row. Apple, Nike Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are three of the nine companies that have recorded a perfect score each year HRC has done the report.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, boosted its ranking by ensuring domestic-partner benefits are “equitably extended to both same and opposite sex partners within their health- insurance plans,” said Deena Fidas, the director of HRC’s workplace equality program.

Burger King Worldwide Inc., the second-largest U.S. burger chain, saw its ranking jump to 80 this year from 55 a year ago. The company has changed its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity and sponsored a “Proud Whopper” campaign, which included putting its signature burger in a rainbow wrapper at a location in San Francisco this year, Fidas said.

This year’s report demonstrated progress among the largest U.S. companies, HRC said. Eighty-nine percent of businesses in the Fortune 500 now have a sexual-orientation nondiscrimination policy, up from 61 percent in 2002, HRC said. Gender identity, meanwhile, is formally protected at 66 percent of the largest companies in the U.S., up from 3 percent in 2002.

“When it comes to LGBT equality, corporate America is a leader, not a follower,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “That kind of leadership changes countless lives around this country, and sets an important example to other companies around the globe.”

Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s largest energy company by market value, scored a -25 in the HRC report, in part because it has refused to amend its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity and sexual orientation, Fidas said.

“In that regard, they’re an outlier in the Fortune 500,” she said.

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers questioned the methodology of the study, which subtracts 25 points for companies that lack “responsible citizenship.”

“Exxon Mobil has a longstanding global, zero-tolerance policy that applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Exxon’s score was unchanged from last year, though the energy company announced plans in 2013 to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of U.S. employees.

“There are other diversity activities we undertake that they also ignore,” Jeffers said, “such as our inclusion of LGBT examples in employee anti-discrimination training, our LGBT employee resource group and long-time support for LGBT philanthropic activities.”