Freedom to Work files complaint in Illinois ahead of annual meeting in Dallas, where shareholders will again vote on adding LGBT protections
IRVING — For the 15th consecutive year, ExxonMobil shareholders will vote next week in Dallas on a resolution that would add LGBT employees to the company’s nondiscrimination policy.
Meanwhile, the national civil rights group Freedom to Work filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil this week alleging that the company violated the state of Illinois’ ban on anti-LGBT employment discrimination.
And Resource Center Dallas officials released details of a meeting they arranged last year between ExxonMobil Human Resources officials and executives from other local Fortune 500 companies, to discuss the business advantages of having nondiscrimination policies in place and offering equal benefits to all employees.
The shareholders resolution that will be voted on next week was again filed by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on behalf of the state’s pension funds, which own more than $1 billion in Exxon stock.
DiNapoli’s resolution asks that, “ExxonMobil amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
ExxonMobil rescinded domestic partner benefits and protections for gay employees after Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999. In 2011, ExxonMobil became the first company to receive a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
After the resolution was filed last year, the company tried to block a shareholder vote. The Securities and Exchange Commission rejected Exxon’s attempt and placed the issue on the shareholder ballot. This year, the company did not try to obstruct it.
Since shareholders last gathered, Resource Center arranged the meeting between Exxon leaders and executives from other local companies. The assumption by the group at the time was ExxonMobil was studying how to implement partner benefits and put in place an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.
Gary Freundorfer, an RCD board member who is vice president of human resources at AT&T, said Exxon officials were cordial and inviting at the meeting.
“But they were very noncommittal,” he said.
Rebecca Solomon, vice president and senior tax officer with Bank of America, said she saw several “aha” moments during the meeting. She said ExxonMobil executives seemed determined not to be pushed into changes by activists, but she presented solid business reasons for adopting inclusive policies.
“Family leave, sick leave, implementing these policies create a work environment where people feel welcome,” she told them.
She suggested implementing these policies could reduce litigation as well as draw talent from a larger pool.
“I wouldn’t work for you,” Solomon said she bluntly told them.
But after the meeting, nothing changed.
“A manager in HR told me they would make the change if an executive order were issued,” RCD spokesman Rafael McDonnell said.
HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said his organization continues to press President Barack Obama to issue an executive order that would require companies doing business with the federal government to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
“It’s unclear when that might happen,” Cole-Schwartz said.
But he said the White House continues to indicate it will issue that order at some point.
The executive order is viewed as a stopgap until there are enough votes in Congress to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act passes, which would ban anti-LGBT job discrimination.
Neither the state of Texas, where Exxon is based, nor the federal government have laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
In April, ENDA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with 170 co-sponsors and in the Senate with 46 co-sponsors.
In his shareholder resolution, DiNapoli wrote, “We believe that corporations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from the widest talent pool.”
He cited cities such as Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles that restrict business with companies that do not guarantee equal treatment for LGBT employees. While not directly addressed in the resolution, the comptroller believes Exxon is violating New York law by not recognizing all of the marriages performed in that state and is costing the state money by not offering benefits to families of LGBT employees.
New York Comptroller spokesman Eric Sumberg said if the U.S. Supreme Court declares the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, it will make New York’s case stronger.
ExxonMobil’s board recommended that shareholders vote against the resolution.
The company claims it already prohibits “all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any Company workplace, anywhere in the world.”
The board believes its “all-inclusive, zero-tolerance policies” make the proposal unnecessary.
ExxonMobil spokesman Charles Englemann referred to the board’s position on the resolution and said, “There is nothing I am able to add to it.”
Freedom to Work filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, May 22 accusing Exxon Mobil of violating the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Freedom to Work partnered with the Equal Rights Center, one of the most experienced civil rights groups that engages in comprehensive civil-rights investigations in employment and housing.
Two fictitious applicants submitted resumes to ExxonMobil. One was a highly qualified LGBT woman and the other was a less qualified straight woman.
The LGBT applicant’s resume said she was involved in the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, while the non-LGBT applicant’s said she was involved in a feminist organization. The two fictitious applicants went to the same high school and college and graduated at the same time, so age or location were not factors.
The LGBT applicant had better grades, better computer skills, a higher level of responsibility in her previous job, more relevant experience for the ExxonMobil posting and a slightly longer period of work experience.
The LGBT person was not contacted by the company while the straight person was. She did not respond, but Exxon contacted her two more times and even said they would hold the job open for her. Even after the less qualified applicant didn’t contact the company, the better qualified candidate was still not contacted. The lawsuit seeks to require Exxon to stop discriminating specifically in Illinois, but to amend its equal employment policy. It also seeks damages.
Demonstrators plan to gather outside the Meyerson Symphony Center during ExxonMobil’s shareholders meeting, from 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 29, until the meeting begins at 9 a.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 24, 2013,