ExxonMobil said last week that it will comply with the protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees required of federal contractors. But it’s unclear whether the oil major will formalize that by changing the language of its equal opportunity corporate policy.
A recent Associated Press story noted that President Barack Obama's signing of an executive order on July 21 expanded protections for federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Labor Department has 90 days to issue regulations for how employers must comply.
“Exxon, which according to government records won more than $480 million in federal contracts in 2013 and more than $8 billion since 2006, has long resisted pressure from civil rights groups and shareholders to enumerate such protections in its formal policy,” according to the AP account.
In a statement to the AP, ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company will continue to “abide by the law,” adding that it prohibits “discrimination on any basis.” He wouldn't say if that meant changing the language in the company's formal equal employment opportunity policy.
For 15 straight years, most recently in May, ExxonMobil shareholders have overwhelmingly voted down proposals to create specific LGBT protections. The proposal this year won 20 percent of voters holding roughly $41.5 billion in Exxon stock. The company claims that it has a “zero-tolerance” policy for discrimination, but the Securities and Exchange Commission has pointed out that this does not offer the same legal force as the regularly-rejected protections would.
"They say they don't need to because it's not an issue, but we don't agree. Without clear written policies that are very specifically stated, employees aren't clearly entitled to equal benefits," New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. The proposal to include specific non-discrimination LGBT language to ExxonMobil’s equal employment opportunity statement has been backed by DiNapoli since 2010 on behalf of the New York State Employees Retirement System.
Natasha Lamb of the private equity group Arjuna Capital, another Exxon Mobil shareholder, expressed confidence the company will comply with the executive order. "I can't imagine Exxon would compromise a federal contract over a couple of words," she said. "That would be juvenile. Once regulation is in place, they will follow suit and act in the best interest of shareholders."
The company began offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples in May 2013, a month before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which previously allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.
Freedom to Work filed a complaint against ExxonMobil with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in May 2013, after resume testing found that the company would prefer a lesser-qualified candidate over one who identifies as LGBT. The case was dismissed in January on jurisdictional grounds, but this month the Illinois Human Rights Commission overturned the dismissal, allowing the complaint to advance.
After 15 long years, it is taking a presidential executive order to move ExxonMobil in the right direction, so heaping praise on the company for its “compliance” isn’t very impressive. It’s more like being dragged by the ear into the 21st century.
(Note: The company will discuss its second quarter earnings later this week. Will ExxonMobil or financial analysts address the LGBT issue?)
Image credit: Exxon Gas Station by T N Jones via Flickr