Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest private employer and largest corporation, added gay and lesbian employees to its antidiscrimination policy, thereby prohibiting discrimination against any employee because of his or her sexual orientation.

Summary of Event

Wal-Mart Stores, which opened its first store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962, has become the world’s largest corporation. With its annual sales of more than $316 billion for fiscal year ending January 31, 2006, and its more than 100 million customers per week, the company’s total revenue accounted for 15 percent of the entire U.S. retail market in 2002, excluding automobiles, and it is the largest employer in twenty-one states. Wal-Mart has also been the largest private employer in the United States since 1997 and in the world since 1999. This represents more than 1.3 million jobs worldwide working in more than 3,200 facilities in the United States and more than 1,100 internationally. It is the largest retailer in Mexico and Canada and has locations in Argentina, Brazil, China, Puerto Rico, Korea, Germany, and the United Kingdom. [kw]Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy (July, 2003) [kw]Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy, Wal-Mart Adds (July, 2003) [kw]Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy, Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and (July, 2003) [kw]Antidiscrimination Policy, Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its (July, 2003) Wal-Mart Stores antidiscrimination policy[Wal Mart Stores] Employment rights;Wal-Mart Stores[Wal Mart Stores] Corporations, and domestic partnership benefits [c]Economics;July, 2003: Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy[2730] [c]Organizations and institutions;July, 2003: Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy[2730] [c]Civil rights;July, 2003: Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy[2730]

In July, 2003, Wal-Mart expanded its antidiscrimination policy to protect its lesbian and gay employees. As of 2004, more than four hundred of the Fortune 500 Fortune 500 companies included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. The most notable exception was Exxon Mobil, the world’s second largest corporation. When Exxon bought Mobil Oil in 1999, it rescinded the sexual orientation portion of Mobil Oil’s antidiscrimination policy and overturned that company’s policy of offering medical benefits to same-gender partners. Exxon Mobil is the last of the Fortune 500 top forty companies to lack such protections for their LGBT employees.

In addition to its antidiscrimination policy, Wal-Mart also revised its policy on harassment and inappropriate conduct to include sexual orientation. This step is intended to encourage employees to report discriminatory actions to management.

Wal-Mart prides itself on its commitment to diversity. It currently employs more than 160,000 African Americans, 105,000 Hispanics, and 164,000 associates age fifty-five or older. It is recognized as one of the leading employers of disabled Americans as well. In 2001 and 2002, it also won the Billion-Dollar Roundtable Award, given for spending in excess of $1 billion with women and minority-owned suppliers. Also in 2002, it was honored with the Ron Brown Award, the highest presidential award given to a company in recognition of outstanding achievement in employee relations and community initiatives. In 2003, Wal-Mart was named by Fortune magazine as the most admired company in America.

Nevertheless, it took several years of lobbying to convince the company to extend protection to its LGBT employees. The decision was no doubt influenced by the consistent efforts of the Pride Foundation, a Seattle-based gay rights organization with investments in Wal-Mart, which had been pressuring the company for two years prior to the decision. Pride Foundation had previously been successful in similar attempts at both General Electric and McDonald’s. Representatives of Pride Foundation originally met with Wal-Mart in August, 2001, at Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters. Wal-Mart has generally acknowledged the role such shareholders had in their decision but claims that it was a letter from several gay and lesbian company employees, indicating a feeling of exclusion, that was the most important factor.


In addition to corporate entities, as of 2004 more than 400 colleges and universities, 1,900 private sector companies, 38 federal agencies or departments, 250 city and county governments, and 25 state governments had nondiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation. However, without a federal law prohibiting such discrimination, antidiscrimination policies remain at the discretion of other companies, agencies, academic institutions, and state and local governments.

The inclusion of sexual orientation in the antidiscrimination policy of the world’s largest corporation, retailer, and employer was clearly an important step not only for the many LGBT employees of Wal-Mart but also for the GLBT rights movement in general. Many have noted that if a company like Wal-Mart—which has been labeled conservative due to company policies such as not selling CDs with explicit lyrics and banning a number of books and recording artists—can extend protection to its gay and lesbian employees, then surely the battle for workplace equality is moving in the right direction.

However, although Wal-Mart’s gay and lesbian employees are now under policy protection against discrimination, as of 2004 the company had no plans of extending medical benefits to same-gender partners. In January of 2005, Wal-Mart did, however, as part of its conflict-of-interest policy, include in its definition of “immediate family” same-gender partners recognized by state law: in effect, an extension of responsibilities but not benefits. It also did not cover gender identity or gender expression in its policy. LGBT employees also lacked an official company group. Thus, although Wal-Mart’s extension of its antidiscrimination policy was both a practical and a symbolic step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go before LGBT employees of Wal-Mart, and many other corporations, attain true equality with their heterosexual coworkers. Wal-Mart Stores antidiscrimination policy[Wal Mart Stores] Employment rights;Wal-Mart Stores[Wal Mart Stores] Corporations, and domestic partnership benefits

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Human Rights Campaign WorkNet. http://www .hrc.org/worknet.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norman, Al. The Case Against Wal-Mart. St. Johnsbury, Vt.: Raphel Marketing, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ortega, Bob. In Sam We Trust: The Untold Story of Sam Walton and How Wal-Mart Is Devouring America. New York: Times Business, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vance, Sandra S., and Roy V. Scott. Wal-Mart: A History of Sam Walton’s Retail Phenomenon. New York: Twayne, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walton, Sam, with John Huey. Sam Walton: Made in America: My Story. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

April 27, 1953: U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

June 2, 1980: Canadian Gay Postal Workers Secure Union Protections

December 4, 1984: Berkeley Extends Benefits to Domestic Partners of City Employees

November 8, 1988: Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination

May 1, 1989: U.S. Supreme Court Rules Gender-Role Stereotyping Is Discriminatory

September 29, 1991: California Governor Wilson Vetoes Antidiscrimination Bill

September 23, 1992: Massachusetts Grants Family Rights to Gay and Lesbian State Workers

1994: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Is Proposed to U.S. Congress

April 2, 1998: Canadian Supreme Court Reverses Gay Academic’s Firing

July, 2003: Singapore Lifts Ban on Hiring Lesbian and Gay Employees

Categories: History