updated 9/29/2004 8:19:09 PM ET 2004-09-30T00:19:09

Sprint Corp. will extend health insurance and other employee benefits to domestic partners beginning in 2005.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based telecommunications company, with 61,000 employees nationwide, disclosed the program to employees this week as part of a regular review of changes to benefits for next year. The expanded coverage would take effect Jan. 1.

Sprint spokeswoman Jennifer Bosshardt said the move was not connected to criticism the company received earlier this month from the Human Rights Campaign. The gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group ridiculed Sprint for providing insurance to employees' pets but not domestic partners.

"We've been evaluating this for years, but this year, we took a broader look at it," Bosshardt said. "We have a larger diversity and inclusion strategy. We believe it attracts, retains and motivates employees."

Steven Fisher, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, which is based in Washington, D.C., applauded Sprint's action.

The group also had criticized Atlanta-based Home Depot, Ecolab Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., and Houston-based Waste Management Inc. Home Depot announced the following day that it would extend benefits to domestic partners.

Bosshardt said the company insures 130,000 people, including dependents and retirees.

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