Walden Asset Management, which owns a minority stake in the company, has promoted the proposal, which would prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The proposal is opposed by company officials, according to the proxy statement filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission:
We believe the proposed resolution is unnecessary because Leggett is already an equal opportunity employer with a firm and long-standing commitment to preventing discrimination in the workplace. Leggett’s existing anti-discrimination policy states, “We are committed to equal opportunity, and strive to maintain a workplace free of discrimination based on any factors other than the skills and abilities of our applicants and employees. These principles of equal opportunity should be applied in all aspects of employment including: recruiting, hiring, promotion, training, compensation, termination and disciplinary action.”
We are committed to the highest ethical standards, which include assuring equal employment and promotional opportunities free of discrimination on any basis other than merit and performance-related qualifications. Our policies reflect our high standards, and we implement these policies in our business operations through ongoing training.
We believe our employment record supports our commitment to nondiscrimination. In a company with more than 30,000 employees, we are not aware of a single charge of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity filed with any city, state or federal agency, nor has the Company received notice from any customer or supplier that its employment policies or practices jeopardize its relationship with them. In addition, for over twenty years Leggett has provided employees with access to a national hotline for anonymous reporting of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
We believe our written policies should specifically list only those types of discrimination prohibited by federal law. This approach furthers the Company’s legal compliance efforts by highlighting categories of illegal discrimination and, thus, helps to reduce our compliance costs. We also believe the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the list would result in increased costs by encouraging frivolous lawsuits.
We believe singling out employees by sexual orientation or gender identity (or any other classification not mandated by federal law) would dilute our policy of prohibiting discrimination in any form and would divert attention from our primary goal of a completely non-discriminatory workplace.
We believe that adding sexual orientation to the list of prohibited forms of discrimination may lead to a more expansive agenda, including the addition of domestic partner benefits at a significant cost to the Company.
Leggett’s shareholders defeated similar proposals made by Walden Asset Management at the Company’s 2006 and 2007 annual meetings by nearly a 3-to-1 margin each year. We believe this overwhelming rejection by shareholders sent a clear message to our Board that Leggett should oppose this unnecessary and costly addition to our nondiscrimination policy.
The shareholders will also vote on the election of 10 directors, the selection of PriceWaterhouse as Leggett's auditor, and the amendment and restatement of the company's flexible stock plan. The board of directors is recommending a yes vote on those three issues.