We're currently in annual shareholder meeting season, which runs roughly April through June. Being part of a team which helps design, update and maintain Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), and also being an investor in those funds personally, I set out to take responsibility for what is in the portfolios by attending the shareholder meetings of the companies I own. But the point was not just to show up, but also to speak up, so I researched ways in which these companies were taking positions on divisive political issues which were not necessary to serve shareholder interests, and which might even work against them.
Case in point: the insurance company Cigna, which has been the subject of controversy lately due to press reports about diversity training which seemed to take some inflammatory positions on some contentious issues.
The Human Rights Campaign lists Cigna as a supporter of the Equality Act, which severely weakens the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA represents a broad political consensus, having been introduced in the Senate by Teddy Kennedy, in the house by Chuck Schumer, and having been signed into law by Bill Clinton. The Equality Act, on the other hand, does not enjoy broad appeal, having been supported in the House on an almost pure party-line vote. Moderates in both parties have made it clear that they have concerns, specifically about the weakening of conscience and religious liberty protections. According to conservative group 2ndVote, Cigna sponsored HRC dinners and received the highest possible score on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.
Furthermore, 2ndVote has assigned the company a score of only 1 out of 5 in the Life and First Amendment categories, reporting that the company donated to United Way chapters that fund Planned Parenthood in 2015-2016, and also donated to Susan G. Komen, which donates to Planned Parenthood (but insists that those contributions are not used for abortions).
Recently, The Washington Examiner acquired leaked documents on Cigna’s diversity training. The training included an “inclusive language” presentation that implied it was exclusionary to say “brown bag lunch,” “man-power,” “hey guys,” “long-time no-see,” “no can do,” “hip-hip hooray,” and, “I had a crazy day.”
Christians are likely to be particularly concerned about reports from The Examiner that, alongside the standard diversity training around white privilege, Cigna employees were taught about “religious privilege,” defined as “a set of advantages that benefits believers of a certain religion but not people who practice other religions or no religions at all.” There was also a slide in which one had to check off various identities to determine their privilege, including being a Christian.
I decided to ask the CEO of Cigna, David Cordani, about these issues at the annual shareholders meeting.
I followed the link as provided by Investor Relations, logged in using the proper "control number" which is given to shareholders so they can gain entry, and then posted a question in the Q&A tab. The system accepted the question.
But the company ignored the question. Furthermore, meeting presenters implied that all relevant questions had been taken. In addition, the company failed to answer the question in both a follow-up email and a phone call.
This is what I asked (with slight edits due for the sake of brevity and privacy):
"Recent press reports reveal that you have subjected employees to 'diversity training' which accuses "a certain religion" of conferring "religious privilege". In addition you have endorsed the Equality Act which severely curtails religious freedom. The current proxy statement claims that "Cigna supports fundamental human rights for all." How do you square that statement with the endorsement of actions that sideline and unfavorably label, certain religious views?"
Was this question relevant to the business of the meeting? Well, you be the judge. Here are some quotes from the Proxy Statement which was included in the materials for the meeting, and was linked to on the shareholder meeting portal:
"Cigna supports fundamental human rights for all. Our support for human rights is buttressed by our Human Rights Statement and our Supplier Code of Ethics."2021 Proxy Statement
I specifically cited that quote in my question. Regarding the Equality Act, the same proxy statement includes this:
"As a result of our efforts to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce, Cigna has been awarded multiple recognitions, including: • Number 42 on Diversity, Inc’s Top 50 Diverse Companies list – 2020 • 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index – Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality nine years in a row (2021)."2021 Proxy Statement
So the Proxy Statement for that meeting openly brags about the partnership with the Human Rights Campaign. How can a question about endorsing the Equality Act on HRCs website, which of course is relevant to the 100% HRC score, not be relevant to that same meeting?
I've had some brief email correspondence, and traded phone messages, with the Investor Relations office of the company. As of now, the discussion is off-the-record. I am anxious for Cigna to go on the record and answer these questions so that I can report the company's side of the story.
I like this company. I wouldn't be invested in it if I didn't think that the management of the company was excellent at running its core business. Cigna as a business has a lot going for it (of course, I'm not making any specific investment recommendations in saying this, and as I already disclosed, I work for a company which is invested in it, and in which I am personally invested). I'm not biased against this company; quite to the contrary, my interests are aligned with it. However, Cigna simply needs to either get out of extraneous political debates and leave the culture wars to the culture warriors, or to give an open, clear, and transparent accounting to its owners for such politicking.
If Cigna decides to go on the record and address these questions, I will be happy to publish its side of the story.
Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”