Welcome to the June 29 Monday Business Briefing, your private business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.

Marriage equality is finally guaranteed in every state, but employment policies vary widely.
Marriage equality is finally guaranteed in every state, but employment policies vary widely. | Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on Friday invalidating states’ same-sex marriage bans affirms that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to the same civil rights as they pertain to marriage. It replaces an unwieldy patchwork of state laws and lower court rulings with a uniform national policy, underwritten by the Constitution, that says every state must recognize marriages performed in other states and issue licenses to same-sex couples who seek them.

What it does not do, however, is require businesses to recognize same-sex marriages in their employment policies. And although corporate America has steadily trended toward the inclusion of same-sex partners in benefits such as health care, caretaker leave and retirement — largely because of growing public sentiment in favor of equality — Friday’s ruling doesn’t mandate it.

“In terms of a legal requirement, that’s going to vary from place to place,” said University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson, an expert on the Constitution and civil rights, specifically the application of the 14th Amendment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “For now, what the court has simply said is the state must issue marriage licenses, and the state has to recognize marriages that have been celebrated elsewhere.”

Amid the jubilation surrounding Friday’s ruling in Louisville and across the country, some civil rights groups were renewing their calls for a national employment nondiscrimination law that would ensure employers made the same benefits available to all workers. Louisville’s Fairness ordinance has been in place for years, and seven other Kentucky cities now have laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But the Fairness Campaign has continued to advocate for a statewide law because a local and state patchwork similar to the one that existed for marriage before Friday has developed. For the same reason, national civil rights groups continue to press Congress to extend basic LGBT protections as a matter of federal statute.

Such policies would have little impact on some of Louisville’s biggest employers, who already offer same-sex partner benefits. After the ruling, IL asked major local employers to share details about their benefits. Brown-Forman, Ford, GE, Humana, KentuckyOne Health, Kindred, UPS, and Yum! — which together employ nearly 60,000 people in Louisville — all already provide same-sex partner benefits.

“Brown-Forman began offering domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of employees regardless of gender (identity) or sexual orientation in 2009,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Conway. For the past four years, the firm has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which measures LGBT-friendliness in the workplace.

Ford spokesman Judd Templin said the company, which has some 9,000 employees at two facilities in Louisville, began offering same-sex partner benefits in 2000.

“Diversity and inclusion are key components of our business strategy at Ford Motor Company,” he said. “We strive for diversity in the workplace and throughout our business network. We are proud of our inclusive policies – where every member of the Ford team is valued.”

Baptist Health, which employs more than 5,300 people here, would not provide details on its current employee policies. But spokeswoman Julie Garrison told IL late Friday the religiously affiliated company would review the decision and its policies to determine its next steps. Religious institutions do not have to recognize same-sex marriages insofar as they affect their operations because of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Metro government provides same-sex partner benefits for its employees, according to Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer. Early in his administration, Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order blocking discrimination against LGBT workers in state government, while Metro government is covered by the Fairness ordinance.

However, state law does not provide domestic partner benefits for state workers. A spokeswoman for the Personnel Cabinet said over the weekend she expects spousal benefits for state workers would expand to same-sex married couples under the court’s ruling. Marcosson said it’s not so clear.

“Whether in its capacity as an employer, whether it will have to, the state may try to litigate that issue (in the future),” Marcosson said, adding he would be surprised if the Beshear administration challenged it. “I don’t think that’s 100 percent resolved by the court’s decision today.”

Still, the court’s affirmation of marriage equality comes as Americans’ attitudes have shifted dramatically in support of LGBT rights. And for employers both private and public, a decision not to provide same-sex partner benefits will likely diminish the pool of qualified candidates at the very least, if not draw a public backlash (see: Indiana, State of).

Investor has tenant, will scale back project at former Spindletop Draperies

An early rendering of the Spindletop building renovation showing the street perspective.
An earlier rendering of the Spindletop building renovation showing the street perspective.

Priam Ventures, the Nashville-based real estate investor that purchased the old Spindletop building at Bardstown Road and Grinstead Drive in the Highlands last year with plans for a major renovation, is cutting a key part of its redevelopment plan in half. But the revised plan is to accommodate a tenant that has signed a lease for the entire building, a principal at the firm told IL this weekend.

The investment group had intended to reconfigure the 9,000-square-foot first floor space into retail and possibly a restaurant, as well as add two floors to the center portion of the property for office space. Now, the company is asking the Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue Corridor Review Overlay District committee to allow it to scale the two-story addition down to one story.

Andrew Stone, a principal at Priam, declined to name the tenant this weekend, saying only it had signed for the entire space and would be starting buildout within the next 30 days.

“It’ll be a great addition to the Bardstown Road area,” he said.

Stone said the tenant is not local and declined to specify how it would use the building. Priam’s updated plan for the addition shows it would reduce the overall height by about five feet. The company’s total investment is $2 million, and the tenant will be putting in additional funds for the renovation, he said.

The Spindletop building was constructed in three sections, with the earliest — which fronts Bardstown Road — dating back to the 1890s. Near the intersection of Grinstead and Bardstown, it occupies some of the most high-traffic real estate in the Highlands.

In Brief

Groundbreaking for new food incubator in Russell later today: Community leaders and Metro officials will break ground later this morning on Chef Space, a new food incubator set to occupy the former Jay’s Cafeteria at 1812 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. According to a filing with Metro government, the 13,200-square-foot space will serve as a food service small-business training center. It’s being developed by the nonprofit Community Ventures Corp. at the former Jay’s, the renowned soul food spot that ran from 1974 to 2008. Turning over the first shovels of dirt will be Congressman John Yarmuth, Mayor Greg Fischer, and Metro Council President David Tandy, along with Community Ventures. We’re also told to expect food trucks and other “community leaders” behind the mic.

Union will vote on GE contract this week: A vote is expected Tuesday on a new contract agreement between GE and the IUE-CWA, which represents more than 6,200 workers at Appliance Park. Members of the IUE-CWA Local 83761 will vote on a four-year labor agreement that include new cost-of-living adjustments, expanded health care and pension benefits, more than $15,000 in additional compensation over the term of the contract via cash payments and wage increases, and a $2,000 ratification bonus. Local President Dana Crittendon didn’t return a call for comment late last week. Here’s the union’s take. In a statement last week, GE’s VP for Labor Relations Greg Capito said the agreement would “provide an excellent GE job package, and we are hopeful our employees will feel the same.” The Connecticut-based company agreed to sell Appliance Park to Swedish company Electrolux, a deal that is still awaiting federal regulatory approval.

Omni, Metro delay first public meeting for site clearance work: Days after the city’s top economic development official said there were no “economically feasible” proposals for moving the former Water Company headquarters on Third Street to make way for Omni Louisville, the hotelier and Metro officials agreed to postpone the first public meeting to discuss demolitions at the site. A meeting of the Downtown Development Review Overlay District committee slated for July 1 was to begin the review process for the demolition of all structures at the site except the original 1910 Water Company building (and the Odd Fellows Hall, which falls under a different portion of the agreement with Omni). A spokeswoman for Louisville Forward confirmed that the two parties had agreed to move the date back two weeks, to July 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the Old Jail Auditorium, citing scheduling as the reason. Earlier this week, Omni officials said through Louisville Forward that they would meet with representatives of a recent charrette — a meeting of design professionals and other stakeholders — to discuss proposals to move the building or incorporate it into the hotel’s design. Mayor Greg Fischer has said the latter would cost some $6 million and is not feasible. As IL reported last week, a proposal to move the building to Founder’s Square — city-owned green space between Fifth and Sixth streets on Muhammad Ali Boulevard — appears to be under consideration.

TropiCuba on Frankfort Avenue has closed: The Cuban restaurant at 2206 Frankfort Ave. has closed, and the building is for sale or lease. That’s per a posting on TropiCuba’s social media last week (the former) and a sign on the front of the now-vacant building (the latter). The 4,200-square-foot building was last assessed at $370,000.

Beam Technologies featured in Fortune: On Friday, Fortune magazine featured a profile of the ever-evolving Beam Technologies. “Meet a startup building an insurance business around a connected toothbrush” talks about the dental care discounts that CEO Alex Frommeyer told us about in May. Beam Technologies has been creating app-connected toothbrushes that track toothbrushing habits for the past three years. Turns out Fro has taken the idea of offering dental care discounts and really run with it. According to the article by Stacey Higgenbothem, the company “hopes to transform the dental insurance market by creating an insurance plan that includes giving its brush to customers to get better data and help keep premiums reasonable.” Not only are they giving their customers toothbrushes, Beam also has developed its own toothpaste and floss that they will ship out to its customers every quarter. “One of our fundamental beliefs is, if I am insuring you, I want you to have all access to preventative health measures,” Fro told Higgenbothem. “So if I am insuring you, I should be paying for your toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste.” Beam was born in Louisville (and used to share office space with IL), but the company moved to Columbus, Ohio, upon receiving a $5 million investment from Drive Capital, which is located there. The discount is available online. —Melissa Chipman

Humana hearts SCOTUS: The Louisville insurer has stayed pretty quiet about the Affordable Care Act since pushing back against then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2009, after she called insurers the “villains” of the health care reform effort. Since its passage, though, Humana has reaped its benefits, expanding individual market coverage through exchanges created by the law and entering states where it previously had not sold policies (and adding thousands of employees here and around the country in the process). After the Supreme Court upheld federal subsidies to lower the cost of insurance policies on the individual market last week, Humana spoke up, issuing a statement praising SCOTUS’s affirmation of the law’s subsidy structure and reassuring its customers that what the Supremes said means they can keep their insurance.

“Today’s ruling upholding the federal government’s provision of subsidized exchange coverage in federal as well as state-run exchanges provides security for people across the United States who get their health coverage through an Affordable Care Act exchange-based health plan,” the company said in a release. “The subsidies people have relied on to help them pay for their coverage will continue.”

Humana also noted that 80 percent of its customers who buy an individual policy on an exchange receive a subsidy. Across the country, federal subsidies reduced premiums by an average of 75 percent for 8 million Americans last year. In Kentucky, subsidies cut prices for the more than 82,000 who received them after buying a policy via Kynect by an average of 74 percent, or $257 a month, per the Beshear administration.

$226,027: The amount of taxpayer dollars the Beshear administration had spent as of Friday afternoon defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban, now invalid, according to the state’s Finance and Administration Cabinet. Attorney General Jack Conway had refused to defend the ban in court after Judge John G. Heyburn, who died earlier this year, struck it down in 2014. Beshear then hired a private firm to argue for the ban in court, saying a legal resolution was the only way to provide certainty on the issue.

Madeline Dee’s: Earlier this month IL told you about Chef Madeline Dee’s fundraising for a new gourmet grocery in the Highlands. The fundraising continues; Dee has raised around $7,000 and there are 39 days left in the campaign. The grocery, called Fond, will also host art fairs and farmers markets, cooking classes and exclusive dinners. Dee reached out to tell us that she’s considering a location on Barret Avenue by the defunct Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. She plans to open in November or December. —Melissa Chipman

Fourth Street Live getting new tenants: Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. announced in a news release over the weekend the closure of Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge and the embattled Sully’s Restaurant and saloon, along with the addition of four restaurants, two from local restaurateurs, as part of a $12 million investment in the facility, which includes the $5.2 million Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse already on the books. Maker’s will close on Monday, while Sully’s — a defendant in a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination — is expected to close in the fall.

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
Stephen George
Stephen George is news editor of Insider Louisville. He is a former editor of LEO Weekly and the Nashville City Paper, and a former news editor of the Nashville Scene. He has written for various other news and culture publications and is happy to be back in Louisville.