Shipping giant FedEx will begin offering health benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian workers, local Fox affiliate My Fox Memphis reported.

FedEx, which is headquartered in Memphis, announced the change last week but the policy won't take effect until January 1, 2012.

“It's a huge deal,” Will Batts, executive director of Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, told the network.

Gay employees in California have received similar benefits from the company since lawmakers approved an expansion of a domestic partnership law in 2003.

The lopsided policy was responsible for downgrades in FedEx's rank as a top employer by gay rights groups. In 2007, the company was dropped from Diversity Inc.'s annual Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

Batts says the change will help the company attract and retain a more diverse workforce, a boost for the city of Memphis.

“One of the things we've learned about cities is that the more diverse they are the more they attract creative people, the more they attract people that are innovative and motivated to improve their communities,” he said.

The change comes at the request of employees.