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Eastman recognized for protecting LGBTQ workers

Hank Hayes • Nov 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Co. has earned a perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation — the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization — for advancing vital policies and practices to protect LGBTQ workers.

HRC’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index assessed LGBTQ inclusion in major companies and law firms across the nation, including 16 in Tennessee.

Eastman has had a focus on inclusion and diversity, and has been talking about it regularly to its team members for more than two years, according to company spokeswoman Candy Eslinger.

Over a year ago, an email memo going out to employees of the Kingsport-based global specialty chemical producer said that “services related to sexual transformation surgery that are not related to organic disease and sex hormones related to sex transformation surgery” will no longer be excluded under the company’s health plan.

“Eastman is making this change to be in compliance with federal law,” Eslinger explained in an email. “The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Sex Discrimination Final Rule went into effect on August 15, 2016, and requires us to make this change in 2017. This Final Rule updates sex discrimination guidelines with new regulations that align with current law and address the realities of today’s workplaces.

“Respect, diversity and inclusion are longstanding Eastman values to help give everyone an opportunity to contribute to their fullest potential. To be successful, we need an environment where everyone can show up to work and contribute fully.”

HRC said “businesses large and small” have removed transgender exclusions from their health insurance contracts and modified clinical guidelines to provide health insurance coverage for mental health counseling, hormone therapy, medical visits, surgical procedures and other treatments related to gender transition or sex reassignment.

This year, HRC reported a record-breaking 609 businesses earned the CEI’s top score of 100, up from 517 last year — a single-year increase of 18 percent. This record sets a new high-water mark for corporate leadership over the 15-year history of the CEI.

In total, 947 companies and law firms were officially rated in the new CEI, up from 887 in last year’s. The average score for companies and law firms based in Tennessee was 85 percent. Of the 16 companies ranked, seven earned 100 points, nine earned 90 points and above, and 12 earned 80 points and above. Besides Eastman, those Tennessee companies ranked in the CEI included Bridgestone, Nissan, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Hospital Corporation of America, AutoZone and FedEx.

“At a time when the rights of LGBTQ people are under attack by the Trump-Pence administration and state legislatures across the country, hundreds of top American companies are driving progress toward equality in the workplace,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a release. “The top-scoring companies on this year’s CEI are not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the United States; they are applying these policies to their operations around the globe and impacting millions of people beyond our shores. In addition, many of these companies have also become vocal advocates for equality in the public square, including the dozens that have signed on to amicus briefs in vital Supreme Court cases and the 106 corporate supporters of the Equality Act. We are proud to have developed so many strong partnerships with corporate allies who see LGBTQ equality as a crucial issue for our country and for their businesses.”

Key national findings revealed in the 2018 CEI: 609 companies earned a perfect 100 points, up from 517 in the 2017 report; gender identity is now part of non-discrimination policies at 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies, up from just three percent in 2002; and 459 major employers have adopted supportive inclusion guidelines for transgender workers who are transitioning;

The CEI-rated companies and top law firms fell under five broad categories: non-discrimination policies, employment benefits, demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion, public commitment to LGBTQ equality and responsible citizenship

The full report, including a searchable employer database, is available online at www.hrc.org/cei.

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