Nissan is put out with Tennessee’s anti-gay measure

NASHVILLE -- Nissan North America has given Tennessee’s more conservative politicians a thump in the forehead.

In the interest of being a good corporate citizen down here in Tennessee, and at the same time looking out for its own business interests, Nissan this week signaled to the public and to the state’s Republican governor -- Bill Haslam -- that it disapproved of what many are calling anti-gay legislation.

Despite an outcry from citizens who opposed it, Tennessee’s legislature passed a bill that would prevent cities from imposing new rules on municipal contractors that bar discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Nissan relocated its North American headquarters from California to Nashville in 2006 and is one of Tennessee’s largest private employers. It is currently investing $1.6 billion to expand its factory just outside Nashville and is expanding an engine plant in Decherd, Tenn.

On Monday, the automaker put the governor on notice that it opposed the bill.

But Haslam, who had several more days to mull it over, instead signed it into law that night, characterizing it as an effort to prevent cities from burdening small businesses with additional regulations.

“We share public concerns about this bill’s impact on diversity and inclusiveness,” Nissan said in a statement. “Nissan is committed to providing a diverse and inclusive environment for all stakeholders."

“All stakeholders” is just vague enough to include the automaker’s 8,000 Tennessee employees and its human resources managers, who recruit people from all over America.

But it could also include some of Nissan’s customers around the country who might now look askance at the automaker’s chosen home state.

David Reuter, Nissan’s chief U.S. spokesman, declined to comment on whether the new law might have any impact on Nissan’s brand image.

“We have our own very progressive and strict anti-discrimination policies here at the company that go beyond state laws,” Reuter says. “We’ll continue doing what we’re doing.”

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