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Saturday, January 5, 2008

ExxonMobil: When Push Comes To Shove

Historically, corporations have outpaced governments as the agents of social change and within the past couple of years this reference has been duly noted in particular with the advancement of equality in the workplace for the GLBT workforce. However, there are evolving instances where government legislation is ahead of the pack and causes a profit-seeking corporation to scramble to be in compliance for a contract.

On July 1, 2007, the state of Connecticut passed Public Act No. 07-142 that requires all companies doing business with the state to have a non-discrimination policy that
protects employees including sexual orientation. Connecticut and California (along with several municipalities) are the only states that enforce this type of legislation on their contractors .

Exxon Mobil Oil Corporation, a subsidiary of parent company, Exxon Mobil Corporation has recently submitted a bid as a Connecticut state contractor and signed a certification on September 11, 2007 that they will adopt as their policy the nondiscrimination agreements and warranties set forth in the above legislation. The issue at hand concerns ExxonMobil’s reputation within the GLBT community as a company that does not include sexual orientation within their equal opportunity employment policy, but has permitted their subsidiary to comply with the state law in order to work on projects in Connecticut.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) publishes an annual Corporate Equality Index that scores companies according to their level of benefits and inclusiveness regarding their Gay and Lesbian workforce. Every year, ExxonMobil has scored a whopping zero out of one hundred. HRC’s site indicates an “R” or “Rescinded” next to the item – “Has a written non-
discrimination policy covering sexual orientation in its employee handbook or manual” on the Exxon Mobil page. While most Fortune 500 companies created non-discrimination policies based upon both sexual orientation and gender identity, HRC reports that Exxon Mobil Corporation has lagged in participating in this growing trend.

“The Human Rights Campaign appreciates the leadership Senator McDonald and State Representative Mike Lawlor have provided in Connecticut to advance equality. We hope that the Exxon Mobil Oil Corp. resolution will be a catalyst for further action—it is past time for Exxon Mobil to take company-wide action to prohibit discrimination against GLBT employees and provide equal benefits to GLBT families,” states Daryl Herrschaft, Director, HRC Workplace Project.Alan Jeffers, Media Relations Advisor for Exxon Mobil Corp disputes HRC’s claim. “ExxonMobil has policies in place that have zero-tolerance for discrimination or harassment. These policies are comprehensive in nature, rigorously enforced, and applicable to all employees wherever the company operates in the world. These written policies prohibit discrimination or harassment for any reason, including sexual orientation, in any company workplace,” states Jeffers.

Although Jeffers did submit to Echelon a Corporate Citizens
document acknowledging their inclusion of sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, Herrschaft indicates that the document submitted is non-binding and is not included in the company’s equal opportunity employment policy.

Whether Exxon Mobil Corporation does or doesn’t have a legal and
binding non-discrimination employment policy including
sexual orientation is still a battle to be fought with the Human Rights Campaign. In the meantime, the progressive states and municipalities that demand this policy from their contractors will be at the forefront of workplace advocacy.