After years of lobbying from LGBT organizations and activists across the country, ExxonMobil's Board of Directors announced Friday that the company's equal employment and workplace protection policies will prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees.
Many advocates in this field say ExxonMobil has made the change because President Barack Obama issued an executive order last year prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, which includes Exxon. In fact, shortly after the executive order was issued, the company claimed it had "a longstanding policy that strictly prohibits any form of discrimination by or toward employees, contractors, suppliers, and customers in any ExxonMobil workplace."
Nonetheless, the company's shareholders had voted 15 times to reject an adjustment to the policy adding non-discrimination protections for its LGBT workers, since Exxon merged with Mobil in 1999 and rescinded Mobil's existing LGBT-inclusive protections.
“Exxon had to include these explicit workplace protections or risk losing its federal contracts,” Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Workplace Equality Program and co-author of its Corporate Equality Index, said in a statement Friday.
In updating ExxonMobil's Equal Employment Opportunity statement, the company was sure to state that it now includes gender identity and sexual orientation protections.
"It is the policy of Exxon Mobil Corporation to provide 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, sexual orientation, gender identity or other legally protected status," reads the updated statement, which is specific to the company's U.S. properties.
Exxon is the only Fortune 500 company to rescind workplace protections on the basis of the sexual orientation of their employees and domestic partner benefits, after the 1999 merger. As HRC points out, most of ExxonMobil's major competitors — BP, Chevron, Marathon Oil, and Shell — ensure protections for LGBT employees. Additionally, 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies have protections for workers on the basis of sexual orientation, and 66 percent have those protections for workers on the basis of gender identity.
Tico Almeida, founder and President of Freedom to Work, which filed a lawsuit on the matter in 2013, said ExxonMobil seemed to only be caving into legal pressure, and that Freedom to Work would continue the civil challenge in court.
"Exxon's management deserves little credit for finally adopting the LGBT fairness policies they have rejected year after year for almost two decades, but this is an important victory for the company's current LGBT employees and future LGBT job applicants," Almeida said in a statement Friday.
In a memo to members of ExxonMobil's PRIDE group acquired by The Advocate, president J. Chris Martin called the move "significant positive news for PRIDE and the Corporation." Martin added, "It’s something we have been hoping for, waiting for, and working towards for a number of years. Importantly for PRIDE and for all LGBT employees and our allies, the addition of these words provides more clarity internally about what the policies cover. The signaling value of this is significant, as it should help remove any doubt that may have existed previously about the policies’ intent. It affirms — in clear and indisputable language — the Corporation’s longstanding commitment to prohibiting discrimination and harassment of any type."
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the move would finally qualify ExxonMobil for the New York State Common Retirement Fund, ending a long-running dispute between the corporation and a host of investors and advocates.