August 5, 2012 in Idaho

Some employers push to expand rights

Idaho interested in whether lack of protective policy will affect recruitment
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Nondiscrimination laws

Twenty-one states, including Washington, have statewide laws banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

Sixteen of those states, including Washington, also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

In 2008, the Boise State University public policy survey queried Idahoans about whether they thought it should be illegal to fire someone because they are, or are perceived to be, gay or lesbian. Sixty-three percent said yes.

BOISE – Idaho hasn’t yet seen its business recruitment efforts affected by the state’s lack of a nondiscrimination law covering sexual orientation, but the experience of neighboring Utah suggests that could be coming.

“It’s a national trend,” said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor who’s done extensive research on law and sexual orientation.

Rosky participated in a panel discussion at the Utah state Capitol in January in which top leaders of some of Utah’s largest businesses said they want their state to enact a nondiscrimination law to make it easier for them to do business. During the forum, Brandon Pace, general counsel for eBay, said, “If we can’t find the right people here, we’ll open a shop someplace else.”

Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer said the state plans to “pay very close attention” to whether commerce or recruitment are affected by the lack of protection for sexual orientation, “because as that issue evolves and develops, we’re going to need to be prepared to respond to it.”

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, said, “Everyone talks about Idaho and our quality of life, but fundamental to someone’s quality of life is knowing that you’re not going to get fired because of who you are.”

Utah hasn’t enacted a statewide law, but 15 Utah cities and counties have enacted local ordinances, covering nearly a third of the state’s population.

Some major Idaho employers, including Hewlett-Packard and Qwest Communications, backed unsuccessful legislation the last two years to amend Idaho’s Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But Qwest, which is now CenturyLink, declined to comment for this article, and Hewlett-Packard issued only a statement from its national office noting the importance of its company nondiscrimination policy.

“We believe it has affected our bottom line for the better,” the statement said.

Coldwater Creek, a major employer in Sandpoint, which recently became the first Idaho city to enact a local nondiscrimination law on sexual orientation or gender identity, declined to comment.

Deena Fidas, deputy director of corporate programs for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, said businesses are becoming an increasingly strong voice in the debate across the country.

“The overarching trend built up over 10 years is that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy, about half have adopted gender identity protection, and a majority have partner benefits,” she said. “They want to have the most ease of investment. If they’re going to be hiring from a local workforce that’s not steeped in a nondiscrimination policy, that’s going to present challenges.”

Hopkins, of the ACLU, said many major Idaho corporations and national companies that do business in the state already have nondiscrimination policies for their own workforces, including Micron Technology, Albertsons, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. But that still leaves their workers vulnerable to discrimination in housing and other areas, she said.

Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus in Coeur d’Alene, said he recruits about 25 companies a year to move to North Idaho and he’s never had one bring up the issue. “That has not been on my radar screen at all,” he said.

Rosky, in Utah, called employers there a “powerful voice” in the debate, “to have the community’s leading businesses … step up and say, ‘We want this law, we already follow this policy and it would actually help us recruit talent to this state.’ ”

He said it was “a matter of time” before Idaho begins hearing similar calls.

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