Apple, Salesforce & Angie’s List Think New Indiana Law is Bigoted

What do cloud computing and cultural tolerance have in common? Ask the governor of Indiana and the CEO of Salesforce.

Actions, as they say, have consequences. Some are positive, some are negative; some you accept, some you don’t. Many times the ramifications of a drastic measure don’t become clear until everything is established in black-and-white. One recent incident that perhaps falls into this category is the signing of the rosily titled Religious Freedom Restoration Act by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

As Kevin Chupka explained in Yahoo Finance , the law specifies that businesses can turn customers away based on religious preference –which essentially means that a store, restaurant, gas station, or hospital could refuse entry to LGBT individuals.

The debate, already a hot topic around the nation, became even more intense as March came to a close, with various top executives expressing their concern and threatening to withdraw their business interests from the state:

  • Tim Cook lashed out against the spirit of the bill in an admonishment he penned for the Washington Post.
  • Saleforce CEO Marc Benioff revoked all events in Indiana.
  • Angie’s List, which is based in Indianapolis, withdrew its plans to invest $40 million into its home office.

It’s fascinating to see businesses taking strong political stands, commented Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. “This is a classic sort of American issue of states’ rights versus federal rights,” he said, but that instead of federal regulations setting guidelines for behavior, “it seems like corporations are taking the lead and attacking these sorts of things that they consider untoward, unsavory or just not good business.”

Part of the reason for the backlash is that support for this new law comes as a surprise to many other business owners. The whole affair seems like a bad idea, not just from a branding standpoint, but just from a business standpoint. Bringing in more people is always the goal for most businesses, and one of the easiest ways to do that today is by using rainbow pins, bisexual flags, and other similar methods to show support for the LGBTQ+ movement. These are, of course, opinions from a commercial perspective. When coming back to the legislative side of things, the passing of this new law seems to be almost an ‘under the carpet’ style process.

Aaron Task interviewed Daniel Lubetzky, the CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks, to get his response to the new law. Lubetzky was noncommittal in terms of a specific action his company would take, but he did say that his core business attitude is focused on the acceptance of different people’s beliefs and cultures.

Pres. Obama has also taken a stand against the act: his press secretary, Josh Ernest, said on ABC’s This Week that it was a simple choice for anyone in a leadership position to “stand up and say that it is wrong to discriminate against people just because of who they love.”

As stated above, according to Yahoo Finance, lawmakers strangely are not owning up to the discrimination that seems to be written into the act. Indiana’s two highest congressional representatives, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long have both claimed that the act was not anti-gay and that additional legislation would be passed as necessary to further clarify that blatant discrimination is off-limits.

Gov. Pence is thus far undeterred by the negative press and economic impact, mentioning on This Week that there were no plans to adjust the language of the act.

9 Indiana CEOs Express Dissatisfaction with New Law

The individual actions by the leaders of Angie’s List, Apple, and Salesforce were not the only steps taken by major Indiana companies in response to the bill’s passage.

On Monday, March 31, top executives at major Indiana institutions asked Gov. Mike Pence and the heads of Congress to change the act so that it isn’t used to discriminate against people based on their sexuality.

The single-page memo to Indiana’s governmental leaders was sent to the press after being handed directly to Long, Bosma, and Pence.

The nine chief executives who provided their signatures for the letter direct some of Indiana’s biggest workplaces, such as Eli Lilly, Indiana University Health, and Anthem. The nine CEOs represent a group of like-minded businesspeople who spoke out in opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The complaint stated that the nine undersigned business leaders were “deeply concerned about the impact [RFRA] is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state.”

The executives want the state’s leadership to pass a new bill stating explicitly that the law is not grounds for any type of sexuality-related discrimination.

Tom Linebarger, the CEO of Cummins, was one of the signatories of the letter. Jon Mills, the publicity director for Cummins, commented that getting the act in line with the expectations of the chief executives would probably be accomplished through an additional amendment or removing a section of a current bill to make room for stipulations to improve the act.

The executives taking a stand against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act include the following companies/CEOs:

  • Angie’s List – Bill Oesterle
  • Anthem – Joseph Swedish
  • Cummins –Tom Linebarger
  • Dow AgroSciences – Tim Hassinger
  • Eli Lilly – John Lechleiter
  • Emmis Communications – Jeff Smulyan
  • Indiana University Health – Dan Evans
  • Roche Diagnostics – Jack Phillips
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud – Scott McCorkle.

Not everyone agrees about this legislation. What is surely disconcerting to many Indianans about passage of the bill, even if they don’t think it’s bigoted, is that it already seems clear from the business response that the state will take an economic hit. As the Indianapolis Star puts it, “In enacting RFRA, the legislature and Pence untypically defied the wishes of Indiana’s largest corporations, including Lilly, Cummins, Cook Group and Anthem.”

No matter what you do, public or private sector, you certainly can’t keep everyone happy. However, you can stay centrally focused on those you serve to make sure you aren’t out of sync with the best interests of your constituents or clients. It’s the only way to do what’s right.

We keep communication channels open, and our customers appreciate that.

By Kent Roberts