IRVING, Texas – Exxon Mobil Corp. has said it will comply with the new protections for gay and transgender employees required of federal contractors, while still sidestepping the question of whether it will formalize that by changing the language of its corporate policy.
Following President Barack Obama’s signing of an executive order Monday expanding protections for federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Labor Department has 90 days to issue regulations for how employers must comply.
Exxon, which according to government records won more than $480 million in federal contracts in 2013 and more than $8 billion since 2006, has long resisted pressure from civil rights groups and shareholders to enumerate such protections in its formal policy.
The world’s biggest oil and gas company by market value will continue to “abide by the law,” spokesman Alan Jeffers said Tuesday.
He wouldn’t say if that meant changing the language in the company’s formal equal employment opportunity policy, but stressed that Exxon prohibits “discrimination on any basis.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, which supports gay rights and gay marriage, 91 per cent of Fortune 500 companies include anti-gay bias as an explicit part of their non-discrimination policies, and 61 per cent explicitly protect against discrimination based on gender identity. Irving-based Fluor Corp. and the company formerly known as the Washington Post Co., now Graham Holdings Co., are the only other companies listed without explicit policies protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation in Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 corporate equality index.
In May, Exxon shareholders voted down a proposal for the 15th consecutive year to add such language to its equal employment opportunity statement, maintaining that the business standards stated on a company website ensure protections without having to specifically name them.
The proposal, backed since 2010 by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on behalf of the New York State Employees Retirement System, has never gained majority shareholder support. It won 20 per cent of voters this year holding roughly $41.5 billion in Exxon stock.
“They say they don’t need to because it’s not an issue, but we don’t agree. Without clear written policies that are very specifically stated, employees aren’t clearly entitled to equal benefits,” DiNapoli said.
Natasha Lamb of the private equity group Arjuna Capital, another Exxon Mobil shareholder, said she’s confident the company will comply with the executive order to the letter.
“I can’t imagine Exxon would compromise a federal contract over a couple of words,” she said. “That would be juvenile. Once regulation is in place, they will follow suit and act in the best interest of shareholders.”
The company began offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples in May 2013, a month before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defence of Marriage Act, which had allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.
But Exxon is facing a same-sex discrimination complaint in Illinois. Last year, the group Freedom to Work sent the company two fictitious resumes for a job opening in Illinois. One resume had stronger qualifications, but identified the applicant as gay. Exxon Mobil responded to the lesser-qualified applicant’s resume while the gay applicant received no reply.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Human Rights Commission overturned a lower body’s decision to dismiss the case. Exxon has said the allegations are without merit.