A week after voters in four states expressed their support for laws allowing same-sex marriage, the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group is giving its own approval to dozens of the nation’s largest law firms for their LGBT–friendly policies.
The Human Rights Campaign released its 2013 Corporate Equality Index Wednesday, rating 889 employers across roughly 40 industries on a scale of 0 to 100 based on a range of criteria that include whether they have equal employment opportunity policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity and provisions in their insurance coverage that apply to same-sex partners. The annual index also awards companies points for offering public support of LGBT organizations and equality laws.
In March, HRC contacted every Am Law 200 firm (based on The American Lawyer‘s 2011 rankings) and invited them to participate in a web-based survey covering LGBT–relevant policies and practices. The resulting index rates 145 law firms—141 of them Am Law 200 firms—with 71 firms receiving perfect scores. That’s up from the 55 firms that earned perfect scores last year and represents the largest number of perfect scores from any of the industries the group surveyed. Three firms received ratings of 95 this year, and another 38 firms received scores of 90. Last year, 44 firms clocked in with scores of 90.
Overall, the HRC bestowed perfect scores on 252 companies this year, up from the 189 employers who hit that mark on last year’s CEI.
Deena Fidas, the deputy director of HRC’s Workplace Project and an author of this year’s CEI, notes that a number of the nation’s largest companies and law firms publicly took political stands on behalf of same-sex marriage proponents over the past year. The 2013 CEI includes recognition of employers, among them several law firms, that publicly endorsed state-level legislation that either legalized same-sex marriage or opposed bans on same-sex marriage. HRC also recognized 11 Am Law firms for filing amicus briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit opposing an appeal of a lower court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“We’re seeing a major shift in terms of how law firms, as employers, are getting engaged with the fight for marriage equality,” Fidas says.
Among the law firms earning HRC’s highest rating this year was Foley & Lardner, which saw the largest year-over-year increase among legal employers by improving on last year’s score of 60. As The Am Law Daily reported at the time, Foley drew HRC’s ire prior to the release of the 2012 CEI because of Washington, D.C.–based campaign finance partner Cleta Mitchell’s work on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group that campaigns against gay marriage.
Last November, HRC publicly released a letter to Foley chairman Jay Rothman in which the group criticized the firm, in part, for its representation of NOM in Minnesota, where the organization was supporting a referendum aimed at outlawing gay marriage. Minnesota voters rejected that ballot measure last week.
In the letter, HRC threatened Foley with a rating of 60 on last year’s CEI and also warned that the group planned to contact firm clients to inform them of its work on behalf of same-sex marriage foes. The group had previously employed the tactic against King & Spalding in response to then-partner Paul Clement’s representation of the House of Representatives in litigation defending DOMA.
For Foley—which earned a rating of 100 on the HRC index as recently as 2010—this year’s perfect score represents a return to good standing in the advocacy group’s eyes. Fidas says Foley’s improved score is partly a result of policies the firm has put in place over the years to remain compliant with HRC’s evolving equality standards, such as providing transgender-inclusive health care coverage, as well as for its public engagement with the LGBT community.
At the same time, she acknowledges that Foley’s rating had suffered due to its work on behalf of same-sex marriage opponents—something she says the firm has told HRC it will no longer do: “We were contacted by the firm this summer and received confirmation that they are no longer taking such cases and that it is the practice of the firm to not take cases like that moving forward.”
Reached by The Am Law Daily, Mitchell said she had not seen the firm’s latest rating and declined to comment. Public records on file with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board show that Mitchell registered with the state as an NOM lobbyist in October 2011 and that the registration was terminated on December 31, 2011. (Based on this interview with Newsmax.com, Mitchell, the president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, dedicated a fair amount of time during the most recent election cycle to voting law issues.)
In a statement issued by the firm, Foley’s chief diversity partner, Maureen McGinnity said of the HRC rating: “This achievement validates Foley’s strong corporate commitment to equality in all aspects of our firm. In addition to ensuring parity in our employee benefits and including LGBT individuals in firm leadership positions, we also support LGBT organizations. Foley recognizes the importance of ensuring all of our colleagues have the opportunity to succeed and thrive. We are pleased to be recognized by HRC for our ongoing commitment to workplace equality.”