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Exxon Mobil faces lawsuit over alleged anti-gay bias

Advocacy group sends fake resumes to shed light on hiring practices

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Exxon, Mobil, gay news, Washington Blade

Exxon Mobil is facing an employment discrimination lawsuit over alleged anti-gay hiring practices (photo courtesy wikimedai)

Exxon Mobil is facing an employment discrimination lawsuit based on a legal strategy of resume audit testing that revealed an apparent anti-gay bias in hiring practices.

On Wednesday, the LGBT group Freedom to Work filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission contending Exxon Mobil violated a 2005 law in the state prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

The case, Freedom to Work v. Exxon Mobil Corp., is novel because the employment discrimination alleged is the result of resume audit testing. Under the strategy, fictitious resumes are sent for the same job opening in an attempt to reveal a candidate belonging to a minority group is unable to land a position.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said black and disability civil rights groups have employed the strategy with great success for decades, but his group’s lawsuit marks the first time an LGBT group has tried it.

“Although they went to the same high school, the LGBT candidate has a higher GPA,” Almeida said. “Although they went to the same college, the LGBT candidate has a higher GPA. Although they do the same kind of work, the LGBT person has longer work experience and better work experience. And then you see who they call back.”

In the test for anti-LGBT bias at Exxon Mobil — which has no non-discrimination policy protecting LGBT workers and has long been criticized by LGBT groups for alleged discrimination in hiring — Freedom to Work sent two applications in December from applicants for an administrative assistant position in Pataka, Ill.

One resume, written for “Jennifer Priston,” demonstrated a candidate who was well-qualified for the position, but outed her as LGBT because she had volunteer experience working for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. The other resume, written for “Michelle Caland” was less qualified in terms of work experience and education, but offered no indication she was LGBT.

Even though Caland was less qualified, she received multiple call backs in response to her application. Priston never received a call back in response to her application even after Caland didn’t respond.

The results of the testing and the pending lawsuit, Almeida said, will force Exxon Mobil to  explain why the company “so desperately” wanted the less qualified non-LGBT candidate over the more qualified LGBT applicant.

“We know that they cannot credibly claim that they didn’t receive the LGBT resume and application because when they were submitted, they sent back to both applicants a receipt acknowledgement saying, ‘Thank you for your application from Exxon Mobil,'” Almeida said. “They can’t claim they didn’t see it.”

Further, Almeida said Exxon Mobil can’t say it didn’t want an employee who had activist experience because the non-LGBT candidate said she worked for a local feminist organization, nor can the organization purport to have engaged in political bias because the candidates have left-leaning resumes.

The result of the testing uncovering apparent anti-gay basis is consistent with a 2011 study at Harvard University that found LGBT applicants were 40 percent less likely to be granted an interview than a straight applicant.

The lawsuit was filed a week before the shareholders at Exxon Mobil are set to consider a resolution from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose state owns considerable shares in the company, to put in place an LGBT non-discrimination policy. The resolution has come up repeatedly over the years and each time has failed, including last year, when it won support from only 20.6 percent of shareholders.

To reach a settlement in the case, Almeida said he’s asking Exxon Mobil to adopt a company-wide LGBT non-discrimination policy and train its workers across the country on implementation.

“We hope that we will shame them into settling this very quickly,” Almeida said. “If they agree to adopting and training HR people on it, we will settle the case as quickly as we can.”

But if Exxon Mobil chooses to fight the lawsuit, Almeida said the case will go into discovery, which means Freedom to Work will subpoena internal documents from the company and depose staffers to expose anti-gay bias in hiring practices.

“No one has ever gotten an inside look as to what their HR professionals think and why they were taught these policies and why they’re existing,” Almeida said. “As the litigation proceeds, we will get to subpoena those internal documents, and we will get to depose the HR professionals and ask them all these questions.”

Charlie Engelmann, an Exxon Mobil spokesperson, said in response to the complaint from Freedom to Work that the company already has policies protecting LGBT workers.

“Exxon Mobil’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,” Engelmann said. “In fact, our policies go well beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination. We are reviewing the complaint filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights by Freedom to Work, a non-profit organization.”

Despite the response, Almeida pointed out the company made the same assertion last year prior to the failed vote on the non-discrimination policy — only to have it rejected by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.

“Prior to the vote on the resolution, Exxon asked the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission for permission to stop shareholders from voting on the resolution, based on Exxon’s view that it had already complied with the proposal,” Almeida said. “However, the SEC rejected Exxon’s request, explaining that ‘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.'”

Illinois was one of two states in which Freedom to Work uncovered apparent anti-gay bias in hiring practices. Almeida did the same paired resume testing in Texas and uncovered similar results at Exxon Mobil.

But Texas doesn’t have a statewide LGBT workplace non-discrimination law on which to base a lawsuit, and no federal non-discrimination protections are in place to help LGBT people. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn’t law, nor is an executive order in place prohibiting anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors.

Over the past 10 years, Exxon Mobil received more than $1 billion in federal contracts. If President Obama issued a much-sought executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT job bias among federal contractors, Freedom of Work could have asked the Labor Department to take action against the company.

Almeida emphasized that executive order would have provided Freedom to Work the opportunity to take action against the oil company in Texas as well as Illinois.

“If the president had signed the order, we would have filed the testing results from Texas with the Department of Labor and asked them to do an investigation, and asked them to order Exxon-Mobil to adopt an LGBT non-discrimination policy,” Almeida said. “This is an example of how the president’s delay is slowing down civil rights.”

The White House has said it prefers a legislative approach to addressing LGBT workplace discrimination. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, reiterated in response to the lawsuit on Wednesday that he has nothing to say about the executive order.

“Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue,” Inouye said.

The lawsuit is novel in another way because with no real persons suffering discrimination, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit is Freedom to Work itself. Most LGBT legal groups, like Lambda Legal, file complaints that name LGBT people who’ve faced discrimination as the plaintiff.

Almeida said organizational plaintiffs are acceptable under Illinois state law as well as alleged discrimination in response to paired resume testing. In the 2000 decision of Kyles v. J.K. Guardian Security Services, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Illinois upheld the right of testers to bring these claims after two black testers brought a race discrimination action to federal court. They were allowed to proceed to a trial and later settled their claims with the employer.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has previously validated lawsuits on the basis of paired resume audit testing in its decisions on earlier litigation. In the 1982 case of Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, the court held testers can sue to challenge housing discrimination and that groups conducting the testing can also file a lawsuit to remedy discrimination.

Also working with Freedom to Work on the testing was the Equal Rights Center, a D.C.-based advocacy organization, which has experience with resume testing for minority groups.

Donald Kahl, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, explained in a statement the validity of filing employment discrimination lawsuits based on testing and their applicability to LGBT people.

“Based on the Equal Rights Center’s 30 years of testing experience, and nearly 2,000 tests conducted in the last year, our testing methodologies are recognized and accepted by the civil rights community, government agencies, and the courts,” Kahl said. “The type of testing we conducted with Freedom to Work is a critical part of objectively demonstrating why our LGBT community needs and deserves anti-discrimination protections.”

The legal team representing Freedom to Work in the lawsuit is Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, a group that has experience representing women who alleged gender discrimination in employment at the retail giant Walmart Stores, Inc.

As the lawsuit proceeds, Almeida said Freedom to Work will continue testing for anti-LGBT workplace bias at other companies and take action as necessary.

“Our work is not completed,” Almeida said. “We’re going to test other companies, and if we find out about discrimination, we’re going to file additional lawsuits.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the nation’s largest LGBT group also supports the lawsuit.

“HRC supports efforts to ensure that all LGBT Americans are judged at work based on how they perform, not on who they are,” Sainz said. “Those efforts include advocating for corporate policies, seeking recourse under state and local laws, and of course working to pass ENDA and a federal executive order.”

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National

Guatemalan LGBTQ activist granted asylum in US

Estuardo Cifuentes fled country in 2019

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Estuardo Cifuentes outside a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, on March 3, 2021, shortly after he entered the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes)

The U.S. has granted asylum to a Guatemalan LGBTQ activist who fled his country in 2019.

Estuardo Cifuentes and his partner ran a digital marketing and advertising business in Guatemala City. 

He previously told the Washington Blade that gang members extorted from them. Cifuentes said they closed their business after they attacked them.

Cifuentes told the Blade that Guatemalan police officers attacked him in front of their home when he tried to kiss his partner. Cifuentes said the officers tried to kidnap him and one of them shot at him. He told the Blade that authorities placed him under surveillance after the incident and private cars drove past his home.

Cifuentes arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, in June 2019. He asked for asylum in the U.S. based on the persecution he suffered in Guatemala because of his sexual orientation.

The Trump administration forced Cifuentes to pursue his asylum case from Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program that became known as the “remain in Mexico” policy.

Cifuentes while in Matamoros ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that the Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create.

The Biden-Harris administration in January 2021 suspended enrollment in MPP. Cifuentes entered the U.S. on March 3, 2021.

“We are profoundly relieved and grateful that my husband and I have been officially recognized as asylees in the United States,” Cifuentes told the Blade on Monday in an email. “This result marks the end of a long and painful fight against the persecution that we faced in Guatemala because of our sexual orientation.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is among those who have said discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation are among the root causes of migration from Guatemala and other countries in Central America.

Cifuentes is now the client services manager for Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazón, a campaign that works “hard to reunite and defend the rights of families impacted by inhumane immigration policies.” He told the Blade he will continue to help LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants.

“In this new chapter of our lives, we pledge to work hard to support others in similar situations and to contribute to the broader fight for the rights and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ migrant community,” said Cifuentes. “We are hopeful that our story will serve as a call to action to confront and end persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court rules Idaho to enforce gender care ban

House Bill 71 signed in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY MIA MALDONADO | The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other trans youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of HB 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for trans Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s HB 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when HB 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to trans people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two trans teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the new year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on trans health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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