Business Report

There’s some worry that a battle over whether to extend LGBT workplace
protections in Louisiana could tarnish the state’s image and lead to the repeal of crucial investments at a time of economic languish.

“You don’t want to be in a place that’s on the wrong side of history,” says Patrick
Mulhearn, executive director of Celtic Studios. “If we’re going to turn this state around and compete, you can’t have discrimination and you can’t discourage people from wanting to be here.”

Still the fight over LGBT workplace protections being waged in Louisiana isn’t expected to become what occurred in North Carolina, which saw a backlash from high-profile businesses and artists following the passage of legislation barring cities from adopting anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, experts and other business leaders say.

LGBT rights have been thrust into the spotlight in Louisiana since Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry began wrangling over whether to extend workplace protections to the LGBT community.

Edwards issued an executive order in April that protects LGBT state workers and employees of state contractors from discrimination based on several identifiers, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious organizations are exempt.

The governor also included the same language in state contracts with lawyers, but Landry refused to approve the contracts. Edwards took Landry to court, where a judge recently ruled in favor of Landry, extending the criteria with which the state’s top attorney can use to judge contracts issued by the governor. Then Landry took Edwards to court over whether his executive order itself was unconstitutional, arguing that Edwards created a “protected class” of people that doesn’t exist in state law.

Mulhearn doesn’t believe Louisiana will see the same business backlash as North Carolina, adding the appearance of discrimination can be bad for the bottom line. Jared Llorens, associate professor of public administration at LSU, says the North Carolina law is “much more far-reaching than what we have here,” adding that’s “probably why you’re seeing less blowback in Louisiana.”

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, National Federation of Independent
Business of Louisiana and East Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce all declined to comment or didn’t return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story. Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp would not comment on the legal battle between Edwards and Landry specifically, but says, “Business and communities are more productive and cohesive when diversity is actively pursued as a value.”

Michael Olivier, chief executive of the Committee of 100, a business roundtable, says the business community is largely on the governor’s side, adding Edwards and Landry’s political fight hasn’t been on the radar of many economic development leaders.

“We’re not Republican or Democrat or otherwise. We’re for Louisiana. We’re for what’s good for Louisiana business and industry,” Olivier says, noting that his organization has not been asked to officially formulate a position on the issue. “We generally oppose anything that would make Louisiana unattractive to businesses seeking to do business in our state.”

Olivier also notes the NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina to New Orleans because of LGBT discrimination laws implemented in that state.