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Ford shareholders to decide whether to amend employment policy

DEE-ANN DURBIN / Associated Press

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. shareholders will decide whether to amend the company's equal employment policy to exclude sexual orientation after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission denied Ford's request to keep the issue off its proxy statement, the automaker said Tuesday.

Ford's policy now says the company won't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, religion and other factors. Shareholder Robert Hurley of Alton, Ill., has submitted a proposal recommending Ford change its policy to exclude any reference to sexual interests, activities or orientation.

Ford asked the SEC to exclude the proposal from its proxy statement, saying it would hurt the company's ability to recruit since some universities require companies to include sexual orientation in their policies. Ford also said publicity over changing the policy could hurt sales to gay rights supporters.

But in a recent decision, the SEC said Ford can't exclude the proposal. The SEC said a rule that allows companies to reject proposals that deal with "ordinary business operations" doesn't apply to this case.

Ford is sending its proxy statement to shareholders on Friday, spokeswoman Becky Sanch said. Shareholders will vote on the proposals and the results will be announced at the company's annual meeting May 11.

"We will include it, and we will have our comments in the proxy statement," Sanch said.

The SEC agreed with Ford's decision to keep other proposals off the proxy statement, including one that would have required the company to pay managers no more than $500,000 per year.

Ford has had an ongoing struggle with the American Family Association and other conservative groups about homosexuality. In December, Ford said it would stop advertising its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands in gay publications to reduce marketing costs. But after meeting with several gay rights groups, Ford said it would put ads featuring all eight of its brands in gay publications.

Last month, 19 conservative groups reinstated a boycott against Ford over the issue. The American Family Association said Tuesday that it supports the SEC's decision.

"I find Ford's logic in asking the SEC to omit the resolution interesting," AFA Chairman Don Wildmon said in a statement. "In essence Ford is saying they are concerned that a boycott by homosexual groups would financially hurt the company, but the boycott by the pro-family groups will not."

Ford shares fell 9 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $7.68 on the New York Stock Exchange.
 
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