Scott Silvestri, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, confirmed to the Washington Blade the company has updated its equal employment opportunity policy to include language for LGBT workers.
“ExxonMobil’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment in the Workplace policies have been updated to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which is consistent with ExxonMobil’s long-standing practice of listing enumerated protected classes as defined by federal law,” Silvestri said.
Silvestri emphasized the new policy is consistent with ExxonMobil’s vision of a discrimination-free workplace and an inclusive company.
“ExxonMobil’s policies prohibit all forms of discrimination in any company workplace, anywhere in the world,” Silvestri said. “ExxonMobil supports a work environment that values diversity and inclusion, and has numerous inclusive programs and policies that help make ExxonMobil a great place to work.”
The new policy, which can be found on page 20 of the company’s Standards of Business Conduct, says the language has been “modified for application in the United States,” which suggests the change was made due to Obama signing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Labor Department announced the final rule for the order on Dec. 3, which started the clock giving ExxonMobil 120 days to comply with the executive order by adding new language to its policy or risk losing federal contracts.
A federal contractor that has earned more than $1 billion over the past decade in contracts from the U.S. government, ExxonMobil had been dragging it feet on implementing an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy. In June, for the 17th time, ExxonMobil shareholders rejected a proposed resolution that would have included sexual orientation and gender identity in the company’s equal employment opportunity policy.
ExxonMobil was one of a few federal contractors that until recently had no explicit non-discrimination rule for sexual orientation and gender identity. According to a 2014 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, 86 percent of the top 50 federal contractors at the time prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and more than 60 percent prohibited discrimination based on gender identity.
LGBT advocates were unenthusiastic about the policy change, saying it’s too little, too late for ExxonMobil.
Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program, said the change “sort of” means full rights have come for LGBT workers at the company.
“This wasn’t prompted by a change of principles or corporate values, it represents Exxon’s response to President Obama’s July 2014 executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people,” Fidas said. “Exxon had to include these explicit workplace protections or risk losing its federal contracts.”
ExxonMobil has the distinction of earning a “0” on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. (At one point, the company has the sole distinction of a score of “-25″ in the report). HRC didn’t respond to an email on whether the change at company would affect its CEI score.
“Exxon has a long, established history of anti-LGBT stances,” Fidas said. “To articulate its policy through the lens of legal conformance is not an affirmative changing of course and full adoption of equality, but instead a calibrated response to retain government contracts.”
Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, said ExxonMobil “deserves little credit” for adopting a policy it has resisted for two decades.
“It’s obvious Exxon is making these changes now because of mounting legal pressure and the impending risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts thanks to President Obama’s executive order,” Almeida said.
Freedom to Work had filed a complaint against ExxonMobil in 2013 for alleging engaging in anti-gay bias in hiring practices.
The organization sent two fictitious resumes to the company in response to a job posting in Illinois. One was from a more qualified applicant who outed herself as LGBT on her resume by noting work at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund; the other was a less qualified applicant who gave no indication about her sexual orientation or gender identity. The less qualified non-LGBT applicant received multiple callbacks, the more qualified LGBT applicant did not.
Almeida pledged to continue with the lawsuit, despite the change in the company’s policy, saying ExxonMobil must make up for past wrongs.
“We will continue prosecuting our civil rights lawsuit against Exxon in Illinois because the corporation should be held accountable for its discriminatory actions from the recent past,” Almeida said. “We will also remain vigilant and file new cases, including under the Obama executive order, based on any new evidence of discrimination that we find at Exxon. The new policy is a good step, but it must be implanted meaningfully to prevent future anti-LGBT discrimination at Exxon.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the change “is an indication” of the impact of Obama’s policies when asked by the Blade on Friday whether the president deserves credit for LGBT non-discrimination at ExxonMobil.
“There are a number of ways the president can advance the kind of agenda that he thinks is the best interest of the country,” Earnest said. “Sometimes that’s by passing legislation that would apply broadly across the economy and across the country. Sometimes it’s about the president taking action that applies only to the federal government and using that as a model for other entities that are considering similar action.”
Earnest drew on the executive order Obama signed in February raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour as an example of policy from the president that has influenced others, saying that same potential may apply to Obama’s LGBT executive order.
“There is a way for the president to use his executive authority in way that may at the beginning have only a limited effect, but does serve to motivate, and in some case, even inspire other states or other companies or other organizations to take similar steps,” Earnest said. “And certainly we’re gratified by the success that we’ve had when it comes to pushing other states to raise the minimum wage, or states to expand access to quality early childhood education. And it’s possible, based on you’ve described to me, that this may be an example of that as well.”