For 17th time, Exxon Mobil rejects LGBT workplace protections

Chris Johnson

Washington Blade

May 28, 2014

For the 17th time, Exxon Mobil shareholders rejected a resolution that would have instituted new policy within the oil-and-gas giant to prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.

According to the company, only 19.5 percent of shareholders voted to approve the proposed resolution at their annual meeting on Wednesday, which this year took place in Dallas, Texas. The resolution would have incorporated LGBT non-discrimination language in the oil-and-gas giant’s equal employment opportunity policy.

This year, as in previous years, the resolution was sponsored by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The resolution was one of eight measures to come up at the meeting; only three were approved by shareholders.

In the past three years, the LGBT non-discrimination resolution has been less and less successful among Exxon Mobil shareholders by a slim margin. Compared to support from 19.5 percent of shareholders this year, the resolution last year received support from 19.8 percent of shareholders, and the resolution in 2012 received support from 20.6 percent of shareholders.

But this is the first year that Exxon Mobil has rejected LGBT non-discrimination protections for its employees after adopting domestic partner benefits last year. The company instituted those benefits following the Labor Department’s decision after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act to make spousal employer-provided pension and health care for employees available to married same-sex couples regardless of where they live under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

According to guidance to shareholders ahead of this year’s meeting, Exxon Mobil’s board of directors advised shareholders to reject the resolution because the company has sufficient non-discrimination policies.

“The Board has reviewed in detail ExxonMobil’s existing global policies that prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world,” the guidance says. “In fact, ExxonMobil’s policies go beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination. Based on these existing all-inclusive, zero-tolerance policies, the Board believes the proposal is unnecessary.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he “couldn’t disagree more” with the line of thinking from Exxon Mobil’s board.

“By this same standard, race, gender, religion, and national origin would not be enumerated categories in law,” Sainz said. “Over fifty years of practical experience has firmly established that there is heightened sensitivity to discrimination only when categories are enumerated. If ExxonMobil is as committed to zero-tolerance as they claim, there’s simply no reason to have fully-inclusive policies. Until then, their commitment to equality will rightly be questioned.”

A federal contractor, Exxon Mobil is currently facing litigation alleging anti-gay bias in hiring practices filed last year by the LGBT group Freedom to Work, which submitted two fictitious resumes to the company in response to a job posting.

One was from a more qualified applicant who outed herself as LGBT on her resume; the other was a less qualified applicant who gave no indications about her sexual orientation or gender identity. The less qualified non-LGBT applicant received multiple callbacks, the more qualified LGBT applicant received nothing.

According to Freedom to Work, the Chicago-based international firm Seyfarth Shaw is defending Exxon Mobil in the lawsuit. The case is before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and a decision is expected soon.

On the same day as the Exxon Mobil vote, a new report titled “A Broken Bargain: Unchecked Discrimination Against LGBT Workers” was jointly published by LGBT groups on incidents of discrimination in the American workplace.

Based on data from existing studies and reports, the report concludes that LGBT workers face bias and discrimination in recruitment and hiring; on-the-job discrimination and unfair firing; as well as wage gaps and penalties.

The co-authors of the report are the Center for American Progress, Freedom to Work, the Human Rights Campaign and the Movement Advancement Project.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the continued discrimination in the workplace demonstrates President Obama must take action by forbidding federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT bias.

“An executive order by President Barack Obama would force Exxon Mobil to adopt LGBT workplace protections in order to continue profiting from hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts,” Almeida said. “Exxon’s leadership has rejected these common-sense nondiscrimination policies year after year, even though their competitors at Chevron and BP understand that banning discrimination is good for business. It’s time for presidential leadership to move Exxon to accept the American value that everybody deserves a fair shot in the workplace.”