Leggett & Platt officials are recommending that shareholders reject a proposal for a policy prohibiting discrimination against company employees due to their sexual orientation.
The proposal, sponsored by Walden Asset Management, a minority stockholder, will be voted on at the 2006 annual shareholders meeting, scheduled to begin 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 10, at the Cornell Conference Center at Leggett's facilities in Carthage.
In a definitive proxy filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, company officials said the proposal was unnecessary. "In our policies and practice, Leggett is already an equal opportunity employer with a firm and long-standing
commitment to preventing discrimination in the workplace," the statement said.
"Our policy states, 'We are committed to equal opportunity in all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotion, training, compensation, termination and disciplinary action.' "
Company officials said their record supports Leggett's "commitment to nondiscrimination."
"For over 20 years Leggett has provided every employee with access to a national hotline for anonymous reporting of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Our hotline records do not include a single claim of discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation. Moreover, in a company with 33,000 employees, we are not aware of a single charge of discrimination based on sexual orientation filed with any city, state or federal agency, nor has the company received notice from any employee, customer or supplier that its employment policies or practices jeopardize its relationship with them,' the statement continues.
Company officials expressed fears that approving this proposal could open the door for a gay agenda.
"We believe adding sexual orientation to the list of prohibited forms of discrimination may be a first step in a more expansive agenda. During our prior conversations with Walden Asset Management, we asked whether they would later seek to add domestic partner benefits if they were successful in their efforts regarding sexual orientation policies. The Walden representative indicated they could not guarantee this would not occur. We believe other shareholders may later seek to add domestic partner benefits, which would add significant costs to the company."
The proposed resolution is printed below:
WHEREAS: Leggett & Platt does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in its written employment policy;
According to a September 2002 survey by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs, 41% of gay and lesbian workers in the United States reported an experience with some form of job discrimination related to sexual orientation; almost one out of every 10 gay or lesbian adults stated that they had been fired or dismissed unfairly from a previous job, or pressured to quit a job because of their sexual orientation;
National public opinion polls consistently find more than three-quarters of the American people support equal rights in the workplace for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals; for example, in a Gallup poll conducted in June 2001, 85% of respondents favored equal opportunity in employment for gays and lesbians.
San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle and Los Angeles currently have in effect legislation restricting business with companies which do not guarantee equal treatment for lesbian and gay employees; and such legislation will come into effect in the state of California in 2007;
Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, and more than 140 cities have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation; Our company has operations in, and makes sales to, institutions in states and cities that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation;
Leggett & Platt is increasingly alone in its position, as 98% of Fortune 100® companies, and more than 80% of the Fortune 500® companies, have adopted written nondiscrimination policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF);
Other manufacturing companies, such as Baldor Electric, Deere, Donaldson, General Electric, General Motors, Herman Miller, HON Industries, Illinois Tool Works, Teleflex and United Technologies do explicitly prohibit this form of discrimination in their written policies;
Other major corporate employers based in Missouri including Anheuser-Busch, Emerson Electric, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hallmark Cards, Monsanto, and Sigma-Aldrich also explicitly prohibit this form of discrimination in their written policies;
We believe that the hundreds of corporations with nondiscrimination policies that reference sexual orientation have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from the widest talent pool;
RESOLVED: The Shareholders request that Leggett & Platt amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and to substantially implement that policy.
STATEMENT: Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation diminishes employee morale and productivity. Because state and local laws differ with respect to employment discrimination, our company would benefit from a consistent, corporate wide policy to enhance efforts to prevent discrimination, resolve
complaints internally, and ensure a respectful and supportive atmosphere for all employees. Leggett & Platt will enhance its competitive edge by joining the growing ranks of companies guaranteeing equal opportunity for all employees.
Leggett officials disagreed with the Walden Asset Management Group's assessment of the situation. In the proxy statement they said, "We believe that, contrary to comments in the proponents’ proposal, Leggett suffers no competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining employees. We have seen no evidence that our policy, which reflects our commitment to equal opportunity in all aspects of employment, places us at a competitive disadvantage."