Publix’s dirty little secret: It doesn’t care about LGBT people

There are companies that embrace gay customers (footnote 1). There are companies that actively work against or overtly discriminate against gay customers (footnote 2). And, in the middle, there is Publix Super Markets, which simply ignores gay customers. That’s just offensive.

The 84-year-old grocery chain, which operates in the Southeast, has a cult-like following. Ask any customer about Publix, and you’re sure to hear about cleanliness, convenience, and the chicken tender sub sandwiches. Publix has won numerous awards, including Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

But, as my husband and I discovered last year, Publix scores a big fat zero in the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Workplace Equality guide. Zero. Not a low score — no score at all. That means only one of two things: Publix has draconian, archaic laws about LGBT employees, or it doesn’t think enough of LGBT employees and customers to participate.

I tweeted Publix a few months ago to ask which it was. They said they simply decline to participate in the survey because they’re asked to participate in too many surveys.

Of course a company like Publix is asked to participate in a lot of surveys. And it clearly does participate in a lot of surveys — otherwise it wouldn’t have won all those awards. But what does it say to LGBT customers when the company declines to participate in a survey about LGBT workplace equality? It means that the company doesn’t care about them.

I followed up my original tweet with one asking if Publix includes sexual orientation in its workplace discrimination policy. It said that yes, it did. Then I asked if they had domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees.

The answer is perplexing: Publix says it doesn’t have domestic partner benefits because it doesn’t operate in any states with marriage equality —

This only proves that Publix doesn’t understand the entire point behind domestic partner benefits. Forward-thinking companies began embracing these benefits for the explicit reason that their LGBT employees could not get married. These employees work just as hard, so why should they get fewer benefits? It’s like paying LGBT employees less for the same work. Apparently, no one in Publix’s HR department understands this. (If someone at Publix is indeed reading this, they should check out the HRC’s domestic partner benefits primer.)

If Publix refuses to participate in a LGBT survey, and it doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits, what else does the company do to ignore LGBT employees and customers? Does it offer an LGBT employee resource group? (Probably not.) Does it contribute to LGBT causes? (Again, I would guess not.) Does it participate in LGBT events? (I haven’t seen the Publix logo at St. Pete Pride or the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.)

Publix is sending a clear message to its LGBT customers: “We simply don’t care about you.” And that’s a shortsighted approach for a company that’s trying to grow. LGBT adults represent $830 billion in spending power, and study after study shows that given a choice they will spend that money with companies that embrace their values.

My husband and I stopped shopping at Publix a while ago. And, you know what, we’ve found other grocery stores that are clean, convenient, and make delicious subs (footnote 3). Not all of these places score highly on the HRC survey, but at least they care enough about their LGBT customers and employees to participate (footnote 4).

Footnotes

1. Like American Airlines
2. Like Chick-fil-A, or this company.
3. And we have saved a lot of money. Publix isn’t known for its low prices.
4. Soon, Publix will be forced to offer equal benefits to its LGBT employees. Marriage equality is sweeping the nation. It will come last to the South, but it is definitely coming here. When it happens, Publix can no longer claim it won’t offer equal benefits because it operates in states without marriage equality!