Thursday, May 28, 2009

Supporting Prop 8: Poor Business Practice?

This week the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that was decided by voters last November in the California general election. Not only does this sadly remind me that not all Californians share equal rights, but it also creates an interesting discussion surrounding workplace diversity.

The Yes on Prop 8 Campaign (favoring a ban on same-sex marriages) raised more than $38 million in campaign contributions, and of that, more than $7.2 million was donated by businesses (which I defined as a donation made by an organization that employs workers) from a variety of professions including lawyers, dentists, construction companies, even a preschool.

The fact that almost one-fifth of the campaign was funded by business dollars made me wonder:
when an employer publicly asserts his or her position on a certain issue – especially a fiercely debated one with religious underpinnings such as Prop 8 – is that considered workplace discrimination? Or just poor business practices?

Contributions to political campaigns in California are very public statements about one’s position on an issue. Due to donor disclosure laws enacted by California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, all contributions of more than $100 are made public - and information including the donor’s name, address, company and industry are required to process the payment. So for a business to donate money to a political campaign, its owners must feel strongly about the issue – as they must be willing to deal with the ramifications that could come with it.

Many businesses including the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the famous El Coyote restaurant in Hollywood and Urban Outfitters, learned this the hard way by being placed on widely-circulated boycott lists and experiencing deteriorating public images – with the hotelier hiring a crisis management consultant and the restaurant manager holding a press conference.

By contrast, companies who publicly opposed Proposition 8 – including public utilities company PG&E, which donated $250,000, and Apple, which donated $100,000 (and was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits employees’ same-sex partners) - are seen as industry leaders that value equality for their employees and customers. Both companies noted that their donations were made as part of their overall commitment to diversity, which they see as essential to workplace morale, innovative ideas and a strong bottom-line.

Publicly supporting a law that limits the rights of a specific group does not qualify as job discrimination – but when workplace tolerance is violated, not only do employees suffer, but in the long run, so does the company.

In essence, it’s bad for business.


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