In a milestone for the gay rights movement in corporate America, a majority of shareholders at Micron, Idaho’s biggest private employer, have voted to ask the firm to promise not to discriminate against its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) employees. It’s only the second time shareholders have won a majority vote on a gay rights issue, activists tell me.
Micron’s board and management opposed the shareholder proposal submitted by New York City’s pension fund asking the company to amend its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation or gender identity. The Boise-based firm calls itself “one of the world’s leading providers of advanced semiconductor solutions.” Too bad its personnel policies are not as advanced.
Micron’s out of step with the rest of the Fortune 500. Ninety-eight of the biggest 100 companies bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. More than half offer domestic partner benefits.
Even so, to have shareholders overturn a management recommendation on a resolution is very rare. The Idaho Statesman reported last week that the company declined to say whether it would implement the shareholder resolutions. Such resolutions are advisory only.
Micron didn’t announce the voting results at its shareholder meeting last month (which itself is unusual) but said its latest 10-Q filing (PDF) that just under 300 million votes favored the resolution and about 240 million were voted against it. The only other time a similar resolution was approved was in 2002 at Cracker Barrel, which had publicly said many years earlier it would not hire gays and had been boycotted for more than a decade.
What does this vote mean? For one thing, it means that more institutional investors, including the major mutual fund groups, are voting their shares for gay rights. Zach Wright, a lawyer with the Seattle-based Pride Foundations, who told me about the Micron vote, has been looking at how mutual funds vote their proxies on GLBT issues; his research indicates that one big mutual fund company that votes against gay rights is Fidelity Investments. I’ve asked Fidelity to respond, and will report back on what the company says. In the meantime, is there anyone reading this who works for a gay-friendly corporation that uses Fidelity to manage its 401-k plan? If so, I’d like to hear from you. More to come…