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ExxonMobil to consider barring anti-LGBT job discrimination

Resolution pushed by N.Y. official not likely to succeed: sources

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All eyes will be on one of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies next week when shareholders will vote on whether the company should make LGBT protections part of its formal non-discrimination policy.

At a meeting set for May 30 in Dallas, shareholders for the ExxonMobil Corp. will vote on a resolution to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the equal employment opportunity policy for its estimated 82,000 workers — a change the company has resisted.

Thomas DiNapoli (Photo by Thomas Good via Wikimedia)

The resolution is being put before shareholders by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. He’s trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which owns more than 16 million shares of ExxonMobil at an estimated market value of $1.3 billion.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, DiNapoli said he introduced the resolution because of the large investment the New York State Common Retirement Fund has in ExxonMobil. In the past three years, DiNapoli has reached agreements with 27 companies to adopt new non-discrimination policies.

“By ExxonMobil not having a clear policy based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it really leaves the corporation to not getting access to the best talent that’s available,” DiNapoli said. “We’re looking at it very much from the point of view of shareholding and wanting our companies to do very well, and we think that this lack of addressing this issue of discrimination is an impediment to ExxonMobil getting the best performance that will benefit our shares.”

ExxonMobil hasn’t included protections for LGBT workers in its equal employment opportunity policy — nor has it offered domestic partnership benefits for employees with same-sex partners — since the company was created as a result of the merger between Exxon and Mobil in 1999.

Mobil protected employees on the basis of sexual orientation and offered domestic partner benefits prior to the merger, but Exxon didn’t. Once the companies joined, the sexual orientation protections were rescinded and new employees were barred from receiving domestic partner benefits.

A vote on reinstating domestic partner benefits within the company won’t take place on May 30 because no such resolution has been proposed.

LGBT advocates are pushing for ExxonMobil shareholders to adopt a more LGBT-friendly policy at the shareholders meeting next week.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, called on all private companies like ExxonMobil to adopt LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies because they’re “morally right and good for business.”

“Non-discrimination policies improve worker productivity, worker retention, worker recruitment and increase profits — and that’s why a vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have adopted LGBT non-discrimination rules, and that’s why it’s so jarring that ExxonMobil continues to be such an outlier with such outdated policies,” Almeida said.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Almeida discounted the importance of having a shareholder vote on whether to adopt the policy and said the board should skip the vote and on its own accord make LGBT protections part of the company’s equal employment opportunity policy.

One of the chief advocates of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, Almeida said the situation with ExxonMobil also speaks to the need for the Obama administration to pursue administrative action against workplace discrimination. The White House announced last month it wouldn’t at this time take such action.

“As taxpayers, we have a right to demand that companies that profit from our taxpayer money do not discriminate against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “It is our money as American citizens, and we should exercise that right because LGBT discrimination is not only morally wrong, it’s inefficient.”

According to Freedom to Work, ExxonMobil has raked in more than $1 billion in federal contracts over the course of the last decade. In the last fiscal year, ExxonMobil won $158 million in federal contracts.

But Almeida is taking the matter a step further and saying the White House should call on ExxonMobil to adopt the LGBT protections as part of its policy. Almeida said he’s had conversations with White House staff on this matter.

As evidence that the administration has promised to educate companies on the need for non-discrimination protections, Almeida pointed to a news conference on the day after the White House announced it wouldn’t issue the executive order for federal contractors.

During the briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration was committed to “directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community — from major corporations to contractors to small business — and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force.”

Almeida said, “We are urging them to take a strong stand in the next week or two to push ExxonMobil to accept the New York State shareholder resolution, which is a promise that Jay Carney made at that press briefing.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the call for ExxonMobil to add non-discrimination protections as part of its policy.

Additionally, Freedom to Work set up an online petition at Change.org to encourage ExxonMobil to update its policy. As of early Tuesday, the petition had 200 signatures.

“The corporation ExxonMobil takes millions of dollars in American taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars every year through federal contracts, but Exxon’s corporate bosses refuse to follow American values – like judging their employees based on their talent and hard work rather than whom they love,” the petition letter states.

Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center Dallas, a local LGBT and HIV/AIDS organization, said she wants to see the Dallas-based company change its policy because the company operates in close proximity of her organization.

“It’s the only remaining Fortune 10 company that doesn’t have an inclusive policy of sexual orientation, and they’re right here in our backyard,” Cox said. “As our neighbors, we would like to encourage and be in conversation with ExxonMobil about this issue.”

Cox said the Resource Center has contacted ExxonMobil’s vice president of human resources, M.A. Farrant, to encourage the company to adopt an LGBT-inclusive policy and sent a letter to Marilyn Carlson Nelson, an ExxonMobil board member and CEO of Carlson Companies whom they think may be amendable to the resolution because she wrote an op-ed against the proposed anti-gay amendment in Minnesota.

The company has sought to block the vote on adopting an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy from taking place. The company’s board had asked the Securities & Exchange Commission to block the resolution from coming before shareholders, but the agency rejected the request in March.

According to ExxonMobil, the company already has protections for LGBT workers. An ExxonMobil spokesperson referred to protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity that are already included in the employment policies and practices page on the company’s website, which specifically states the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

A letter dated Jan. 20, 2012 from James Parsons, ExxonMobil’s coordinator for corporate securities and finance, suggests this policy statement is sufficient protection for LGBT employees.

“To be clear, in my opinion the statement of our employment policy specifically referencing sexual orientation and gender identity set forth on ExxonMobil’s internet employment policy page gives employees and potential employees precisely the same legal standing and access to rights and remedies — including the internal enforcement remedies available for violations of ExxonMobil policy, up to and including termination of the offending employee — as would be the case if these categories were instead referenced in the Standards of Business Conduct booklet,” Parsons writes.

In response, DiNapoli said this policy isn’t enough and noted the Securities & Exchange Commission denied that inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in this policy was a reason to block the resolution.

“We really think that they should have it stated in their policies, not just something on the website,” DiNapoli said. “[The EEO policy] is part of their written policies and procedures that follow from it. Obviously, the SEC made a resolution that our determination could go ahead because they basically found that what we were suggesting wasn’t in effect at ExxonMobil. So, I think that they are not accurate in what they’re portraying.”

ExxonMobil, the largest company in the world in terms of revenue, is known for having anti-gay policies. The most recent Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign scored the company at “-25” — the lowest rating of any company.

LGBT advocates speaking with the Washington Blade couldn’t identify any incidents of LGBT job discrimination at ExxonMobil, but nonetheless said a change in company policy is necessary.

Paul Guequierre, an HRC spokesperson, emphasized the importance of ExxonMobil adopting an LGBT-inclusive equal employment opportunity policy as a way to make it more competitive with other companies.

“It’s important that non-discrimination policies include sexual orientation and gender identity,” Guequierre said. “We know the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies — including ExxonMobil’s competitors in the oil industry — offer these protections.”

Crosby Burns, research associate on LGBT issues at the Center for American Progress, said the adoption of an LGBT-inclusive policy is particularly important for ExxonMobil because the company is based in Texas, which has no statutory protections against LGBT job bias.

“ExxonMobil is one of the largest employers in Texas, and adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its EEO policy would give LGBT workers significant employment protections in a state where there sadly are none,” Burns said.

The upcoming meeting won’t be the first time ExxonMobil shareholders have had to vote on adopting an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy. The New York State Common Retirement Fund has been the sponsor of similar resolutions each year since 2008.

According to ExxonMobil, votes cast in favor of the proposal have declined in recent years, from a high of 39.6 percent in 2008 to 19.9 percent at last year’s annual meeting. Still, the 2011 vote represented more than 500 million shares at a market value of more than $42.4 billion.

While emphasizing the need for ExxonMobil to adopt the policy, advocates weren’t confident about whether shareholders would ultimately vote to approve the LGBT non-discrimination resolution next week.

DiNapoli said “we’re always optimistic” that shareholders will adopt the new policy as opposed to rejecting it and the chances are better that they’ll support it this year.

“As a nation generally, and certainly in terms of shareholders being informed about what’s going on, the prospects are better than they were in other years, but obviously, we’ll have to wait and see what the vote is,” DiNapoli said. “I’m certainly confident at some point we’re going to have success in regard to ExxonMobil’s policies; I’m hoping it will be this year.”

The Resource Center’s Cox said she doesn’t think shareholders will approve the resolution — just as they’ve rejected it in years past — but said she isn’t normally in the business of predicting.

“I don’t have reason to think that it’s going to get approved,” Cox said. “I’d be surprised if it does this year, but I think there’s opportunity to work with Exxon leadership, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Almeida said he thinks the shareholder resolution will face a close vote, but added if it fails, the outcome will be another reason for Obama to issue an executive order barring workplace discrimination for federal contractors.

“That will increase the need for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of signing the executive order for federal contractors because there’s no way ExxonMobil would risk losing lucrative federal contracts in order to keep its antiquated anti-LGBT policies,” Almeida said. “If the president signs the executive order, they will immediately cave.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Glen

    May 25, 2012 at 2:35 am

    I have not purchased gas or any product from a Mobile station or attached vendor in over TEN years because of their lack of a non-discrimination policy covering sexual-orientation. Particularly since they actually had that until Exxon acquired them and eliminated it.

  2. Kurt

    May 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    The article does skip over one fact. Those Exxon Mobil workers who are members of the United Steelworkers Union or the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union do have job protections thanks to their union contract. Clearly this is not something the company has any willingness to do voluntarily, but the unions have been able to win LGBT job protections.

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National

Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill

Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards (Photo Credit: Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.

The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.

Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.

The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.

Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana. 

“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.

He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.” 

“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.” 

 

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Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports

“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

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Becky Pepper-Jackson (Photo credit: ACLU/Raymond Thompson)


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. 

The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.” 

“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”

“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

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Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law

Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs

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Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade
Alabama State Capitol (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law.  Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.

According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”

In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”

“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”

Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message. 

“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said. 

Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.

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