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Northrop Grumman pressured by Maryland legislator, gay rights groups over move

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 27, 2010; B01

RICHMOND -- A Maryland state senator and gay rights advocates are urging defense giant Northrop Grumman to reject Virginia as a location for its new corporate headquarters because of the Commonwealth's position on state protections for gay employees.

In a letter sent Thursday to the company's CEO, Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) argued his state's stand on gay rights better mirrors the company's own longstanding commitment to gay and lesbian employees.

"Here in Maryland, we value our gay and lesbian citizens as part of a diverse population that makes the state strong," Madaleno wrote. "Virginia is doing the opposite and letting its LGBT citizens -- and those considering whether to move and work there -- know that they and their families are unwelcome second-class citizens. And they are counting on corporations like yours not to care."

The Los Angeles-based company is currently deciding between Virginia, Maryland and the District as a new home for its 300 top executives, running an unusually public contest among the three.

Madaleno, who is gay, wrote that new Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) are "turning back the clock" on gay rights, as Maryland's attorney general has announced the state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Virginia voters in 2006 amended the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage.

On Friday, the chief executive office of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group, sent Northrop Grumman CEO Wesley Bush a similar letter. The group has scheduled a news conference on the topic for Monday.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell, responded that companies can enact the same corporate policies for their own employees in Virginia as in other states. He jabbed back at the Maryland rhetoric, insisting Virginia has been winning jobs because it doesn't have the "high taxes and excessive government interference and regulations found in some neighboring states."

"This Maryland legislator isn't really interested in job-creation," Martin said. "If he was, he would spend his time trying to enact Virginia's model of low taxes, limited regulation and strong right-to-work laws."

Virginia Chief Deputy Attorney General Charles James said Cuccinelli has issued the same opinions on protections for state employees as McDonnell did when he held the job before his election as governor. "It has been the consistent position of this office that the power to create a classification like this is vested solely in the General Assembly," James said.

Dan McClain, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman, said Bush has not yet read the letters and declined to comment on specific factors going into the company's relocation decision.

But, he added, the company believes "a workplace that values diversity and fosters inclusion is pivotal to promoting innovation and increasing productivity."

For several years, Northrop Grumman has received a perfect rating from the Human Rights Campaign for its protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenderemployees.

Gay rights groups in Virginia have been sounding the alarm about changes in state policy instituted since McDonnell took office in January. Persuading a massive company like Northrop Grumman not to move to the state would be a massive symbolic victory for the movement.

But several large companies that also have protections for gay employees, including Volkswagen and SAIC, relocated to Virginia in recent years.

"To be completely candid, the point of view of an interest group will have little or no bearing on this," said Hugh D. Keogh, CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

In his letter, Madaleno noted that an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce issued by McDonnell shortly after taking office did not include protections for gay employees, a departure from his Democratic predecessors.

And he pointed out that McDonnell, citing advice from Cuccinelli, also declined to extend health benefits to the other adults living in the homes of state employees, including gay partners, as had been proposed in the waning days of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's term.

McDonnell has pledged there will be no discrimination in his administration but said extending legal protections to gay employees is a legislative decision.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's secretary of business and economic development, Christian S. Johansson, said through a spokeswoman that while state officials have been focused on presenting Northrop a package of economic benefits, they also recognize there may be cultural or social issues that could make one Washington-area jurisdiction more attractive than another.

Staff writer Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

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