Equality Virginia Asks, Tysinger Auto Group Answers
By, Meredith Jenkins & Justin Ayars, JD
Back in March of 2014 Equality Virginia’s Executive Director, James Parrish, called Miles Burcher, one of the managers with Tysinger Auto Group (Mercedes Benz, Audi, Hyundai, SMART). Miles had been a long time supporter of Equality Virginia and a past Legends Honoree. James had noticed that Tysinger was not listed as a business that was 100% LGBT inclusive. Tysinger had been the first franchised car dealer to openly support the Pride Festival in Hampton Roads and also the Equality Virginia Legends award, so James wanted to be sure Equality Virginia did not leave them off the list. James asked Miles about Tysinger’s employee handbook. Specifically, he wanted to know what it stated with regards to gender / sexual orientation verbiage and whether Tysinger offered joint medical benefits to same-sex couples. Miles answered honestly, “I don’t know.” Miles had been on his partner’s (now spouse’s) medical insurance for over a decade, so he never had a need to ask about Tysinger's internal insurance policies.
When Miles finished his conversation with with James, he called Mark Tysinger (the owner of the company) into his office and asked him the questions posed to him by James on the phone just moments ago. Mark replied, “I am sure our handbook addresses those issues, but let me check and I will get back with you.” Mark got a copy of the employee handbook and saw the verbiage was not complete. Mark then started the process of making the changes necessary to the employee handbook so that it reflected the all-inclusive workplace that Tysinger was. Mark then called the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association (VADA) broker for Tysinger’s insurance companies. He wanted to be sure he could offer the LGBT community all the same benefits he offered to same-sex couples. During his conversation with VADA, Mark was stunned to learn that no one had asked those types of equality questions before. Moreover, he discovered that the company his grandfather founded in 1926 could not offer all of his employees equal benefits. This shocking revelation made it apparent to Mark that updating Tysinger’s employee handbook was not going to be enough.
Taken aback by this news that his company was not, in fact, 100% LGBT inclusive, Mark prepared himself to discuss his findings with two of his closest employees: Miles (of course) and Mark’s own son, Blake, who had come out to him a few years previously. Mark had never discriminated against anyone and, as far as he knew, no one in his family’s business ever had. Supporting the LGBT community had been great for Tysinger's business. Mark knew Miles Burcher and Miles’ husband, Gary Brocksmith, for many years and had even vacationed with them. Over the years, Mark and his wife, Denise, had probably shared more wine with Miles and Gary than they care to admit! Though initially discouraged, Mark was resolute in his determination to make things change so that he could provide an inclusive work environment where everyone could be treated as one family. Mark saw Miles in the parking lot heading to lunch and walked over to him to share the news. With a reassuring tone, he told Miles that he would work diligently to address the insurance issue.
Soon thereafter, Miles was scheduled to address a monthly event hosted by the Hampton Roads Business Out Reach (HRBOR), a regional LGBT chamber of commerce, since Tysinger is a Platinum sponsor of the organization. Denise Tysinger regularly attends these events with Miles and this month was no different. When Miles got up to say a few words on behalf of Tysinger, he began his remarks by saying, “I’m afraid I have some bad news tonight.” Miles detailed his phone call James Parrish and all that transpired thereafter. Despite Mark Tysinger’s recent policy discoveries, Miles assured HRBOR’s members that Tysinger does not discriminate. Upon hearing Miles’ words, Denise Tysinger gasped and the crowd burst into laughter. Then Miles said Tysinger was, in fact, changing its employee handbook and that its insurance broker was working to allow the company to offer medical insurance and other benefits equally to every single employee. Over the next few months, with the help of its VADA broker, Tysinger was able to get the company’s insurance carrier to offer full benefits to all of its employees.
Later that July, Equality Virginia hosted a workplace discrimination breakfast forum at the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce office in Hampton. Bob Rombs, the Vice President of Tysinger, attended with Miles. At the event, James Parrish asked, “Can Tysinger be added to the 100% LGBT inclusive list?” Miles beamed as he replied, “Yes. Yes you can!” Some months later, Miles addressed HRBOR again and proudly reminded them that despite his sad news just a few moths prior, Tysinger Mercedes, Audi, Hyundai and SMART was now a 100% LGBT inclusive employer! Tysinger currently has three managers and four sales associates who identify as members of the LGBT community. They are respected as equals and, importantly, now receive the same benefits as every other employee of the Tysinger family.
To this day, Mark humbly points out that the staff at VADA deserves as much (if not more) of the credit for addressing the insurance inequality issue. When you meet Mark Tysinger he will tell you, “It was the right thing to do. Any type of discrimination is wrong. When you put a face to it, that's what makes the difference.”
In fact, after Mark raised the insurance coverage question to VADA, the association was able to effectively address the issue for every other automobile dealer across the Commonwealth!
A simple question posed by Equality Virginia sparked an internal investigation within Tysinger that expanded to efforts within VADA to address the association’s inequities with respect to benefits and insurance coverage. In a few short months, the valiant efforts of Equality Virginia, Tysinger and VADA resulted in a monumental victory in the battle for workplace equality across Virginia. Sometimes all you have to do is ask the right question.