POLITICS

Exxon Mobil Insists It Has Policy Protecting LGBT Workers Against Discrimination

06/16/2014 05:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2014

WASHINGTON -- For years, Exxon Mobil has been called out for being one of the few Fortune 100 companies that does not ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, its shareholders have repeatedly voted down resolutions that would institute such a policy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

But in a statement to The Huffington Post on Monday, Exxon Mobil insisted it has a "longstanding policy" doing just that.

"ExxonMobil has a longstanding policy that strictly prohibits any form of discrimination by or toward employees, contractors, suppliers and customers in any ExxonMobil workplace," spokesman Scott J. Silvestri said. "Our global, zero-tolerance policy applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

On its website under "employment practices and policies," the company states, "Our global zero-tolerance policy applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity." But as the site also notes, the binding policy appears in the company's Standards of Business Conduct -- and that document doesn't have any language specifically barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Page 19 of Exxon Mobil's Standards of Business Conduct contains its "Equal Employment Opportunity Policy," which states that the company undertakes to "foster a work environment free from sexual, racial, or other harassment" and to administer its employment policies "in a nondiscriminatory manner." But there is no specific mention of LGBT protections.

LGBT advocacy organizations have repeatedly targeted the company for its refusal to enumerate protections for LGBT individuals. Last year, the group Freedom to Work sued the company, alleging that it had discriminated against a prospective employee it believed to be gay. Despite the pressure from advocates, shareholders again voted down anti-discrimination protections in May, making it the 17th time they had done so.

The Human Rights Campaign quickly criticized Exxon Mobil for its statement Monday.

"Though their statement sounds like it’s taking a very progressive stand, it is in fact a master class in doublespeak -- crafted, no doubt, by a team of well-paid lawyers," HRC spokesman Fred Sainz said. "Until a nondiscrimination policy is enumerated, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Exxon Mobil did not immediately return a request for comment responding to the HRC.

The company's statement Monday came after President Barack Obama announced that his staff is working on an executive order that will ban federal contractors, such as Exxon Mobil, from discriminating against LGBT employees.

The Huffington Post also reached out to other federal contractors that currently lack certain protections for LGBT individuals. Johnson Controls, which has a policy banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity, said it would "refrain from commenting because we haven't see the actual order and language."

Archer Daniels Midland, which also has protections for sexual orientation but not gender identity, replied: "ADM is committed to the fair and equal treatment of all employees. We comply with the local laws and regulations in all countries where we do business and are reviewing the executive order to understand its potential impact to our current policies."

A representative for CHS said the contractor is “committed to equal employment opportunity and has a Global Code of Conduct in place that includes non-discrimination, diversity and equal opportunity, and well as respectful treatment and anti- harassment policies, that prohibit discrimination for non-work related characteristics." Like Exxon Mobil, however, its Global Code of Conduct document doesn't list protections specifically on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Abbott Laboratories said it makes employment decisions "without regard to race, color, religion, creed, age, sex, national origin, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, veteran or military status, genetics or citizenship status." It updated its policy in January 2014 to include gender identity or expression.

ConocoPhillips replied that its policy is to "provide equal employment opportunity for all qualified persons without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, gender identity or expression, genetic information or any other legally protected status." It also shared an Equal Employment Opportunity policy document, which can be seen here.

A John Deere spokesperson said the company does not discriminate against applicants or employees on the basis of sexual orientation. But he added that the company believes that is an encompassing term -- an interpretation that is not generally used.

"In our policy, we believe the term 'sexual orientation' covers all types of discrimination related to sexual orientation including gender identity. Therefore, we believe we are compliant with existing Federal regulations," he said.

Other contractors have not yet responded.

According to data compiled by the HRC, 59 percent of Fortune 100 companies are federal contractors, and of those, 95 percent have sexual orientation protections in their equal employment opportunity policies; 82 percent have gender identity protections.

Amanda Terkel and Marina Fang contributed reporting.

This story has been updated with more information about Exxon Mobil's written policy on workplace discrimination, as well as comments from representatives of Archer Daniels Midland, CHS, Abbott Laboratories, ConocoPhillips and John Deere.

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