Will ExxonMobil Finally Protect LGBT Employees?

Will ExxonMobil Finally Protect LGBT Employees?

ExxonMobil shareholders have voted 15 consecutive times to deny employment protections to LGBT workers at the gas and oil company. 

And after a preliminary fact-finding hearing Tuesday for an Illinois employment discrimination investigation launched by LGBT group Freedom to Work, it looks like the company isn't planning to amend its policies anytime soon. Despite ExxonMobil's claims that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a study earlier this year conducted by the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work found that résumés listing LGBT affiliations were 23 percent less likely to get a call-back from the oil company than an identical résumé that did not out the candidate as LGBT. 

While the precise details of Tuesday's hearing at the Illinois Department of Human Rights office are confidential, Freedom to Work provided The Advocate with a notice outlining the proceedings, which asked both parties to present complete evidence prior to the hearing. Since the case was not dismissed or settled at the hearing, the department now has 90 days to issue its ruling on whether ExxonMobil violated state and federal law by failing to protect LGBT employees.

"[Tuesday's] fact-finding hearing by the Illinois Department of Human Rights was probably the first time since Exxon deleted LGBT protections when it acquired Mobil in the 199's that Exxon has had to answer for itself in a legal proceeding related to their anti-LGBT policies and practices," said Freedom to Work's Tico Almeida. "We hope Illinois will make a finding that Exxon broke the law." 

After President Barack Obama signed a pair of executive orders making it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees in July, ExxonMobil claimed that its policies already included protections against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Representatives for the company pointed to a section on ExxonMobil's website that mentioned sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics but have yet to provide copies of the company's Equal Employment and Opportunity Policy to confirm that it includes such protections. The company, one of the largest recipients of federal contracts, has consistently repeated this claim. 

Noting that ExxonMobil is the only company to ever receive a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index (an annual rating of how LGBT-inclusive companies are), LGBT activists have remained skeptical about the company's claims that its top-level policies include LGBT protections. 

In March, HRC's vice president of communications, Fred Sainz, bluntly addressed Exxon's claims that its policies include protections for LGBT employees. 

"Put bluntly, this statement is a lie," Sainz said in a statement. "ExxonMobil's Equal Employment and Opportunity Policy has clearly and consistently omitted enumerated LGBT nondiscrimination protections for its personnel. Though their statement sounds like it's taking a very progressive stand, it is in fact a master class in doublespeak — crafted, no doubt, by a team of well-paid lawyers." 

Long the subject of derision in the LGBT community, Exxon actually stripped away existing protections for LGBT employees when it acquired Mobil in 1999. A gay former Mobil employee told The Advocate last year that the decision was "a slap in the face" that "took us back 30 years." Since that time, ExxonMobil shareholders have repeatedly voted down efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the company's top-level employment policy, which currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, or nationality, but does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Learn more about "Exxon's Gay Shame" in this comprehensive 2013 feature from The Advocate documenting Exxon's long history of mistreating LGBT workers, and see why some activists are calling on the government to cancel the oil company's estimated $6.6 billion in federal contracts here

A conclusion from the Illinois Department of Human Rights is due in the Exxon investigation by January 20. 

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