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Emails Show Conflict Behind ExxonMobil's Discrimination Policy Case

Emails Show Conflict Behind ExxonMobil's Discrimination Policy Case

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An ExxonMobil executive says the company is great for LGBT employees, but the lack of an antidiscrimination policy may prove otherwise.

A vice president of ExxonMobil has lashed out at the head of an LGBT workplace rights organization that called the global oil company "the most antigay corporation in America" because of its lack of workplace policies to protect LGBT workers.

Earlier this year, President Obama signed two executive orders to protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination in the workplace. After it was announced that the U.S. Department of Labor was finalizing those workplace protections, Freedom to Work president Tico Almeida knocked Exxon in an article for The Hill last week and said the Labor Department should start its work by cracking down on the oil giant.

A spokesperson for ExxonMobil responded in the article that the company "has a zero-tolerance policy that prohibits discrimination in any company workplace, anywhere in the world," including anti-LGBT discrimination.

In an email acquired by The Advocate, Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil's vice president of public and government affairs said Almeida's words could not "be further than the truth."

"ExxonMobil's global policies and processes prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world," Cohen wrote.

However, Exxon's Standards of Business Conduct do not specifically include protection from discrimination on either basis.

According to the company's equal employment opportunity policy, Exxon "provides equal employment opportunity in conformance with all applicable laws and regulations to individuals who are qualified to perform job requirements regardless of their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, citizenship status, age, genetic information, physical or mental disability, veteran or other legally protected status."

Cohen cited the company's LGBT affinity organization, PRIDE (People for Respect, Inclusion and Diversity of Employees), and philanthropic efforts with Washington, D.C.-based health clinic Whitman-Walker and the Houston AIDS Walk.

According to Shawn Jain of Whitman-Walker, the clinic received approximately $12,500 in donated proceeds from an ExxonMobil charity golf tournament. The donation came through PRIDE, one of ExxonMobil's six affinity organizations, which took its turn in organizing the tournament, and decided to donate the proceeds to Whitman-Walker Health.

Calls for confirmation regarding ExxonMobil's donations to Houston AIDS Walk were unanswered, but in its 2012 philanthropic report, ExxonMobil donated $10,500 out of $24,575,870 for all health-based organizations including $29,600 for the American Cancer Society and $1.75 million for Malaria No More. ExxonMobil also seems to have sponsored a team for AIDS Walk Houston 2014. The team says the company has raised more than $245,000 for AIDS Walk Houston since 2002.

ExxonMobil shareholders have voted 15 consecutive times to deny employment protections to LGBT workers at the gas and oil company. Freedom to Work is currently in the midst of a legal challenge against ExxonMobil. 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 revealed that resumes listing LGBT affiliations were 23 percent less likely to get a call-back from the oil company than identical resumes that did not out the candidate as LGBT.

"This Exxon executive also should have been smart enough to phone his lawyer Gerald Maatman at the big corporate law firm Seyfarth Shaw to learn more about the currently pending litigation that Freedom to Work has brought against Exxon with concrete proof of their anti-lesbian hiring bias," Almeida told The Advocate Friday. "We are expecting a decision from the Illinois Human Rights Department soon, but this Exxon vice president seems completely ignorant of that fact."

A call for comment to Maatman has not yet been returned.

Nonetheless, Almeida says ExxonMobil's score in the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index should get a bump because of the new discovery that the company has an LGBT affinity group. ExxonMobil, based in Irving, Texas, is the only company to ever receive a negative score on the index, which rates how LGBT-inclusive companies are. Before the merger in the 1990s, Mobil had a policy protecting LGBT employees.

"But that PRIDE group is not enough," he said. "It's long past time for Exxon to add four simple words -- sexual orientation, gender identity -- to their official standards of business conduct. Thanks to President Obama's executive order, they may soon lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts if they don't amend their standards of business conduct to add protections for LGBT workers."

Click to the next page for text of the email

Email message from Ken Cohen to Freedom to Work on December 5, 2014:


"Today in media reports Freedom to Work once again characterized ExxonMobil and the 75,000 people who work here as 'the most anti-gay corporation in America,' and without any evidence or foundation claim the company has anti-LGBT workplace policies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Readers of your statements should know that you've never taken the time to contact the company to learn about the many LGBT inclusive programs and policies that help make Exxon Mobil a great place to work.

Had you done so, you would have learned about ExxonMobil's longstanding resource group for LGBT employees, (known as PRIDE, which stands for People for Respect, Inclusion and Diversity of Employees) and its advisory council comprised of LGBT executives.

We also would have provided details of our inclusive benefits programs and recruitment efforts aimed at prospective LGBT employees, support for LGBT suppliers, and our many contributions to LGBT philanthropic activities, such as the Houston AIDS Walk, which we've been involved with since 1999, the Whitman-Walker Clinic, and other LGBT non-profit organizations.

ExxonMobil's global policies and processes prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world.

Just because you keep saying otherwise, doesn't make it true.

Sincerely,

Ken Cohen
Vice President, Public & Government Affairs

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