NY comptroller argues Irving-based company is violating marriage law

PUMPED UP | LGBT?protesters gathered outside Exxon’s shareholder meeting in Dallas in 2010.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

IRVING — Since the merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1999, shareholders have offered resolutions every year to add sexual orientation to the company’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

This year, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wants the company to not only amend the policy but also to begin offering health benefits to the spouses of employees married in the Empire State.

He said by not doing so Exxon is violating New York’s new marriage equality law.

DiNapoli has submitted the resolution for several years on behalf of the ExxonMobil shares the state holds in its employee pension funds. DiNapoli’s proposal has been voted down at the shareholders meeting held each year at the Meyerson Symphony Center in downtown Dallas. However, the percentage of shareholders voting for the nondiscrimination amendment has steadily risen and topped 30 percent last year. This year’s shareholders meeting is set for May 30.

“ExxonMobil claims it does not have discriminatory policies, but it continues to deny health benefits to same-sex couples who are married in New York State that are automatically given to married couples,” DiNapoli said.

Mobil was one of the earliest Fortune 500 companies to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and offer partner health benefits. But after Exxon and Mobil merged, those rights and benefits were taken away, one of the only times that’s happened at a Fortune 500 company. This year, rather than allowing the resolution to be introduced at the meeting, recommending a no vote and expecting a majority of shareholders to sink the proposition, ExxonMobil went to the Securities and Exchange Commission to try to block it.

ExxonMobil based its complaint to the SEC on a statement added to its Corporate Careers publication. The company added a statement to its Employee Policies and Practices page in the publication that reads: “Any form of discrimination by or toward employees, contractors, suppliers, and customers in any ExxonMobil workplace is strictly prohibited. Our global, zero-tolerance policy applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

But the SEC wasn’t impressed, saying the publication doesn’t carry the same weight as a formal nondiscrimination policy.

The federal agency ruled, “Based on the information you have presented, it appears that ExxonMobil’s policies, practices, and procedures do not compare favorably with the guidelines of the proposal and that ExxonMobil has not, therefore, substantially implemented the proposal.”

For three years, DiNapoli has introduced a shareholder proposal, but as a result of the passage of marriage equality in New York last year, his arguments are strengthened.

In countries with marriage equality, ExxonMobil offers benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. In the U.S., it recognizes only heterosexual spouses.

In an email to Dallas Voice, DiNapoli said Exxon’s policy is “in conflict with anti-discrimination and marriage equality statutes in New York State.”

“By law we have to have a representative introduce the resolution,” DiNapoli’s press secretary Eric Sumberg said, “so there will be a representative of the New York State Common

Retirement Fund at the meeting.”

Over the last three years, DiNapoli has been successful in negotiating nondiscrimination policies with 27 other companies. This year, he filed shareholder resolutions with 12 Fortune 500 companies. Of those, he reached agreement with eight, including Dollar General, Dresser-Rand Group Inc. and Equifax, and withdrew those proposals.

In the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, ExxonMobil has consistently received a score of zero. This year, for the first time, the company received a negative score.

Exxon Mobil was one of only three companies in the CEI that lost points for actively engaging in activity that undermines LGBT equality, based on the company’s decision to rescind Mobil’s policies.

Of the ExxonMobil board members who are corporate CEOs, three represent companies with a CEI score of 100 percent, two with a 90 percent and two with an 85 percent. Only one comes from a company — Nestle — with a rating of 45 percent. But all have basic nondiscrimination protections.

HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said, “Their intransigence is simply inexplicable.”

Resource Center Dallas’ Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said, “Exxon is going to have to add these protections.”

He said if President Barack Obama signs an executive order mandating federal contractors include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies, ExxonMobil would be forced to comply. Exxon has more than $1 billion in federal contracts annually.

Meanwhile, although ExxonMobil has refused to provide protections for its LGBT employees, its employees have been generous to Dallas AIDS and LGBT organizations.

During the company’s first Employees’ Favorite Charities Campaign, employees and retirees raised $1.6 million for 127 Dallas-Fort Worth non-profit organizations. Among those were AIDS Arms, AIDS Outreach Center and Resource Center Dallas. Other LGBT-friendly organizations that benefited from the employee campaign were Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Hope Cottage, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas and Gilda’s Club of North Texas. Vogel Alcove, a daycare facility for children of the homeless, was co-founded by the LGBT Congregation Beth El Binah.

Few anti-LGBT groups were on the list. The notable exception was the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America, which took a case to the Supreme Court to preserve their right to discriminate.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson serves on the Boy Scouts board of directors.

So while the company won’t cover health benefits for same-sex spouses of its employees, it will be matching funds to HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations. And those funds will cover health exams for people without other insurance at places like AIDS Arms’ Trinity Health and Wellness Clinic and dental exams at the Nelson Tebedo Clinic and gynecological exams at Planned

Parenthood. Unless DiNapoli prevails, ExxonMobil’s employees’ families may have to seek out treatment at these facilities that the company is helping to fund.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2012.