Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has outsourced maintenance of its Louisville, Ky., campus to a company recognized for efforts to increase diversity, including providing domestic partner benefits and celebrating Gay Pride Month on the company calendar.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reported March 12 that the seminary is laying off all 94 of its maintenance workers and contracting with Sodexho, an international facilities-management company with its U.S. headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md.
Employees were reportedly told that they would no longer be employed by the seminary as of the end of March and could reapply for their jobs with Sodexho, which likely will use fewer workers.
Some of the workers had been there as long as 20 years. Some are married and the family's primary wage earner. Four are international students, who face limited work options because they are in the United States on student visas.
Seminary spokesman Lawrence Smith told the newspaper that the move would probably save money in the long run, but finances were not the motive for the change.
"We are very good at theological education," he said. "We want to put as many resources as possible into theological education. Our job is not facilities management."
Sodexho provides outsourcing for food service, housekeeping, grounds keeping, plant operations and maintenance, asset management and laundry services to more than 6,000 corporations, healthcare centers, schools, college campuses and military sites in North America. It is the official food service provider for the U.S. Marine Corps.
According to the Sodexho Web site, a diverse workforce is a core value for the company.
"At Sodexho, diversity is at the heart of everything we do," Richard Macedonia, president & CEO of Sodexho, North America, said in a statement. "We believe that diversity is not only a business imperative, but an ethical and social responsibility grounded in our core value of team spirit, service spirit and spirit of progress."
The nation's leading provider of food and facilities management, with $6 billion in annual revenue, Sodexho has more than 110,000 employees. Nearly half (47 percent) are minorities—either African American, Asian, American Indian or Hispanic--and 57.6 percent are women. One in five managers is a minority and 42 percent are women.
The Black Collegian, a publication serving the career and self-development interests of African-American collegians, recently included Sodexho on its list of the nation's top 10 employers for the second straight year. Diversity, Inc. magazine ranked the company 18th in the nation among the top 50 companies for diversity in the workplace.
Diversity and inclusion comprise one of Sodexho's six strategic imperatives. Incentive compensation for managers is tied to meeting diversity goals as well as profit. The company also requires that its suppliers not discriminate.
Diversity isn't limited to race and gender, however. Company policy ensures "equal opportunity in all aspects of employment regardless of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, ancestry, citizenship, age, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or any other basis protected by law."
"Sodexho will not tolerate discrimination," said an executive summary in the company's 2004 Annual Diversity & Inclusion Report.
Since 2002 the company has celebrated Gay and Lesbian Pride month on its corporate calendar. It began offering domestic partner benefits the same year.
In 2002 Sodexho also published a handbook on creating employee network groups to provide input and support diversity efforts. The newest, chartered last August, is People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality.
The mission of PRIDE, according to the diversity report, "is to strategically align Sodexho's organizational structure to embrace all diversity inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees so that value is added to Sodexho."
Action plans for the group include training for understanding alternative lifestyles, a newsletter, AIDS awareness, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month education and events and to act as a liaison with the Human Rights Campaign.
Sodexho's diversity policy is at odds with Southern Baptists' strong pro-family image. Many in the denomination recently applauded Focus on the Family's James Dobson for opposing what he called an effort to send a diversity message to children, including tolerance for homosexuality, through animated characters including SpongeBob SquarePants.
The Southern Baptist Convention in 1997 called for a boycott of The Disney Company, in part because of a policy recognizing same-sex unions by extending benefits to domestic partners.
The convention is also on record as opposing "steadfastly the practice of extending employee benefits to domestic partnerships."
The SBC excludes from membership churches "which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."
Southern Seminary in particular has been an outpost in the convention's efforts to oppose homosexuality and gay marriage.
Al Mohler, president of the seminary, recently went on television to denounce a United Church of Christ ad affirming homosexuality as "masterful propaganda." Last summer he accused presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of "political gymnastics" on gay marriage.
In a paper on homosexuality, Mohler wrote: "The biblical witness is clear: Homosexuality is a grievous sin against God and is a direct rejection of God's intention and command in creation."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.