When the Human Rights Campaign released its Corporate Equality Index in October, a Tennessee company that’s usually the target of the group’s ire found itself instead receiving kudos for its nondiscrimination efforts.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, based in Lebanon, has often been chided by HRC and other GLBT organizations for not fostering an inclusive workplace. While the company has long denied any discriminatory policies, it has in recent months moved to codify its practices to become more GLBT and minority friendly, a move which has paid off.

“Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., once in the news for delivering pink slips justified by 'The employee is gay,' has implemented a non-discrimination policy and diversity training that includes sexual orientation and has even gone as far as to provide a cash grant to the Tennessee Equality Project,” reported the index, which ranks companies based on their non-discrimination policies and practices toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and consumers.

Cracker Barrel jumped 40 points the previous index, one of only 12 companies or organizations with an increase of 30 points or more. Company officials say this is the first year the organization has actively participated in the survey, and that also affected the new ranking.

“Because we participated in the survey, the score better reflects our business and we're certainly pleased that the score has improved because it is now a better representation of our business,” said Julie Davis, senior director of corporate communications. “I think it's important to recognize that Cracker Barrel values what everyone brings to the table; everyone is welcome on our front porch and on our staff. Our EEO policy has included sexual orientation for almost a decade now. We think it's time to start telling our story, and participating in the CEI survey is a way to do that.”

The company has also reached out to the Tennessee Equality Project by making a donation to the organization, something that speaks to TEP Board President H.G. Stovall on many levels.

“While I was always evaluated strictly on my job performance and never felt I was treated differently because of my sexual orientation, I know there were employees who were not fully comfortable being themselves,” said Stovall, a former employee of Cracker Barrel. “It is my hope that this will bring to Cracker Barrel's GLBT employees a sense of relief and the ability to share their true selves with their co-workers and friends.

“The leadership shown by Cracker Barrel in standing up for the GLBT community should not go unnoticed,” he continued. “Many among us were aware of a very different history for the company; one that is now quickly becoming ancient history.”

Current employees also are hailing the company’s focus on the issue, added Davis.

“ I have received a number of very positive emails from employees who are pleased that Cracker Barrel is telling its story so people can get a better sense of us. Cracker Barrel believes that welcoming diversity in our company, our retail stores, and our restaurants is good for business and, more importantly, good for people. Our mission statement is “pleasing people” and policies that support diversity and inclusion are woven into the fabric of that.”

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