NY comptroller, LGBT groups vow to keep up Exxon fight

Irving-based oil giant’s shareholders again vote down job protections

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NOT A BANNER DAY FOR EQUALITY | Protesters from GetEQUAL stretch a banner along Flora Street outside the Meyerson Symphony Center on Wednesday, May 30, during the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting, where the company again voted down LGBT employment protections. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Local and national LGBT activists, along with New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, vowed this week that their fight to get ExxonMobil to add LGBT employees to its nondiscrimination policy isn’t over.

At a shareholder’s meeting held in Dallas on May 30, the proposal was voted down by a margin of 20.6 percent to 79.4 percent.

DiNapoli called the vote “shameful.”

Over the past several years, DiNapoli has negotiated policy changes successfully with 27 other corporations, including Dollar General, Equifax and Houston-based Dresser-Rand.

“ExxonMobil is clearly acting in a discriminatory way when it offers different benefits to its employees based only on the company’s interpretation of legal marriage,” DiNapolo wrote in an email to Dallas Voice after the vote. “It should do the right thing and implement a clear policy prohibiting discrimination. From the shareholders’ standpoint, there’s risk to the value of our investment until it does. I remain firmly committed to advocating for this resolution until ExxonMobil provides equality for all of its employees.”

New York State Common Retirement Fund Investment Officer George Wong said his office will work with DiNapoli’s to decide their next step, but DiNapoli made it clear that he believes ExxonMobil is violating New York state law.

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OCCUPYING THE ARTS DISTRICT | LGBT activists were joined by protesters from groups including Code Pink, United Steel Workers, the Sierra Club and Occupy Dallas. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

“ExxonMobil’s refusal to substantially implement a written equal employment opportunity policy allows the company to continue to deny domestic partner benefits to its employees in the United States and is in conflict with anti-discrimination and marriage equality statutes in New York State,” he wrote.

Outside the meeting, dozens of protesters lined Flora Street in front of the Meyerson on Wednesday. About 50 people with organizations including Code Pink, United Steel Workers and Occupy Dallas joined GetEQUAL Texas protesters to shout for equality and ending discrimination, while a handful of protesters parodied the CEOs that make the choices and profit from ExxonMobil.

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, who helped organized the protest, said before the vote that the company is “clinging to antiquated business practices.”

“It’s a matter of really learning that this is good for business,” Cates said.

Dallas activist Cd Kirven carried a banner for GetEQUAL Texas.

“I am representing the families of people who work for Exxon,” she said. “The ones who are afraid to come out and speak for themselves. And I’ll continue coming until the policy changes or the law changes, which Exxon will be required to follow.”

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas, which has also been pushing the Irving-based corporation to add LGBT protections, said Wednesday’s vote was “disappointing” but not “the end of the issue for us.”

“We’re going to continue to reach out and engage them,” McDonnell said. “I think the White House needs to go back and revisit this executive order.”

An executive order could require federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. ExxonMobil has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts over the past decade.

In response to Wednesday’s vote, the national employment nondiscrimination group Freedom to Work announced it would redouble its efforts to persuade the president to issue an executive order.
Freedom to Work founder and President Tico Almeida called ExxonMobil’s practices “Neanderthal.”

“It’s time for White House staff to follow through on this promise and join the campaign to persuade ExxonMobil to adopt official policies protecting our freedom to work without discrimination,” Almeida said in a statement.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement noting that as of 2012, 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their EEO policies, while 50 percent include gender identity.

“The shareholder resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to ExxonMobil’s EEO policy was a non-binding referendum and the company still has the chance to do the right thing,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “The company has resisted offering basic employment protections for their LGBT workers for years and it’s time they treat all of their employees like the valuable assets they are.”

In its nondiscrimination policies, ExxonMobil only includes those categories that are mandated by law. That includes sexual orientation and gender identity in countries that require those categories to be enumerated.

“ExxonMobil favors a blanket approach to its global policies on discrimination and harassment, in saying that it promotes a workplace free of all forms of harassment and unlawful discrimination,” the company wrote in an explanation of why it recommended a “no” vote on the resolution.

However, in the U.S. discrimination based on sexual orientation is not unlawful.

ExxonMobil currently has a rating of minus-25 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Had the resolution passed and the board voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its policy, the company’s rating would rise to 5.

The resolution to amend the policy has been introduced each year since Mobil and Exxon merged in 1999. The highest level of support came in 2008 at nearly 40 percent.

Mobil was one of the first companies in the world to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and offer benefits to the same-sex partners of gay employees. But ExxonMobil rescinded those policies after the merger.

ExxonMobil has called the measure unnecessary. It says the company is a “meritocracy” for its 82,000 workers worldwide, and that it already prohibits all forms of discrimination.

For the first time ExxonMobil appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission this year to have the shareholder resolution thrown out.

The company based its claim on a nondiscrimination statement in its Corporate Careers publication.

The SEC refused to allow ExxonMobil to throw out the resolution, saying the publication doesn’t have the weight of a corporate nondiscrimination policy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.

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