February 4, 2015 at 7:34 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Illinois finds ‘substantial evidence’ of anti-gay bias at ExxonMobil
Exxon, Mobil, gay news, Washington Blade

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has found “substantial evidence” of anti-gay discrimination at ExxonMobil.(Photo of Exxon sign by Ildar Sagdejev, photo of Mobil sign by Terence Ong; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

The state of Illinois has found “substantial evidence” that oil and gas giant ExxonMobil engaged in anti-gay discrimination in its hiring practices.

In a document dated Jan. 30 and obtained Wednesday by the Washington Blade, the Illinois Department of Human Rights announces it has found enough evidence for a pending case “to be heard before a trier of fact so that credibility can be determined.”

The LGBT group Freedom to Work and the Equal Rights Center, an organization with experience in resume testing practices, filed the complaint against ExxonMobil in 2013 for allegedly engaging in anti-gay bias for a position in Illinois, which has a state law banning discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

The organizations 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, straight applicant received multiple call backs, the more qualified LGBT applicant did not.

The lawsuit seeks restitution by requiring ExxonMobil to adopt pro-LGBT protections and training in employment practices in addition to collecting attorneys’ fees.

Peter Romer-Friedman, counsel to Freedom to Work in its proceeding against Exxon, said he’s “delighted” with the finding from the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

“It’s about time that someone held Exxon accountable on behalf of the LGBT community, and I’m so proud of Freedom to Work for its leadership in bringing that accountability to the largest company in the world,” Romer-Friedman said.

Melvina Ford, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, said the findings from Illinois demonstrate the effectiveness of using testing to uncovering bias in the workforce.

“The outcome of this case is further proof of the effectiveness of civil rights testing in uncovering illegal employment discrimination against LGBT job applicants,” Ford said. “Without the testing methodologies used in Freedom to Work’s investigation, Exxon’s discrimination against LGBT employment applicants would have gone undetected and unaddressed.”

Just last week, ExxonMobil announced it has adopted as part of its equal employment opportunity policy explicit language barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The company, which was formerly one of the few major companies without a pro-LGBT policy, made the change after President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT job bias.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the continuation of the lawsuit is necessary even though ExxonMobil has changed its policy.

“Exxon was recently forced by President Obama’s executive order to add gay and transgender employees to the corporation’s equal employment policies, but those were merely changes on paper,” Almeida said. “We must ensure that LGBT employees actually get a fair shot in their careers at Exxon, not just on paper. Freedom to Work will continue to prosecute this civil rights case and hold Exxon accountable for its anti-gay discriminatory conduct from the recent past.”

But now that the Illinois Department of Human Rights has issued its findings, two paths are open in the case for Freedom to Work: filing before the Illinois Human Rights Commission or with the Circuit Court that has jurisdiction over the case.

Mike Theodore, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Human Rights, said Freedom to Work must file within 30 days to continue with the lawsuit jointly before the Illinois Department of Human Rights, but has an additional 60 days to file independently with the commission or circuit court.

“We have not received word from Freedom to Work about a filing with the HRC, but we’re still early in the 30-day window,” Theodore said. “As for resolution, there’s not a clear timetable for when the case will be resolved with either option.”

For the first time, the findings from the Illinois Department of Human Rights reveal ExxonMobil’s defense for opting to choose the less qualified non-LGBT candidate over the more qualified LGBT candidate.

According to findings, Dona Steadman, a human resource adviser for ExxonMobil, denied sexual orientation was a factor in the hiring decision. She testified she selected in the initial screening process for her boss 35 applicants out of the 51 who applied by “looking at their experience, not their volunteer work and their education.”

“Steadman stated she did not have a narrowing tool, her process was to open the resume and skim it for certain words,” the finding states. “She felt 35 applicants was a significant number of applicants to pass on. She felt she was passing on a lot of documents for review and she was providing a lot of candidates with experience he had outlined. She was not keeping a tracking sheet for all 51 of them, in fact, she does not know if she opened all 51 of them.”

Although the straight candidate was included in the 35 applications chosen, the LGBT candidate wasn’t included in that group, Steadman testified.

Scott Silvestri, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, said “we have not received anything” on findings from the Illinois Department of Human Rights, but nonetheless pledged to continue to fight the lawsuit.

“We intend to defend the company’s position in the matter because the claims in the complaint are baseless,” Silvestri said. “Sexual orientation or gender identity played no role in the hiring decision because of our zero-tolerance discrimination policies. It is inaccurate to suggest otherwise.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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