SEC rejects ExxonMobil bid to block protections for sexual orientation, gender identity


Staff Reports

WASHINGTON — The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a ruling Tuesday that halts an attempt by energy giant ExxonMobil to prevent a non-discrimination shareholder resolution with protections for sexual orientation and gender identity from being voted on during its annual shareholder’s meeting on May 30.

The New York State Comptroller’s office — in a request filed by comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli — requested that ExxonMobil “amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to substantially implement the policy.”

Noting the inconsistencies between state and local laws concerning employment discrimination, the resolution acknowledges that the company would benefit from a “consistent, corporate wide policy to enhance efforts to prevent discrimination, resolve complaints internally, and ensure a respectful and supportive atmosphere for all employees.”

In a statement released Thursday, DiNapoli said, “ExxonMobil is putting investors at risk by failing to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“ExxonMobil claims it does not have discriminatory policies but it continues to deny health benefits to same-sex couples who are married in New York State that are automatically given to married couples. I urge shareholders to support my proposal to ask ExxonMobil to end these practices and bring this company into the modern age,” DiNapoli said.

In a January letter to the SEC, ExxonMobil argued that its current employment policies and practices already conformed to DiNapoli’s resolution request.

“Specifically, the Employment Policies and Practices page on ExxonMobil’s internet site now specifically states that our zero-tolerance policy against any form of employment discrimination covers both sexual orientation and gender identity,” ExxonMobil said, in its letter.

The policy in question states, “Any form of discrimination by or toward employees, contractors, suppliers, and customers in any ExxonMobil workplace is strictly prohibited. Our global, zero-tolerance policy applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

But in a written response dated March 20, Ted Yu, Senior Special SEC Counsel refuted ExxonMobil, and said that, based on the information presented, “it appears that ExxonMobil’s policies, practices and procedures do not compare favorably with the guidelines of the proposal and that ExxonMobil has not, therefore, substantially, implemented the proposal.”

The Human Rights Campaign noted that more than a decade ago, before Mobil Corp. was acquired by Exxon Corp., Mobil prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and offered health benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Upon its 1999 merger with Exxon, the non-discrimination policy was removed and the domestic partner benefits program was closed to new employees.

Since 1999, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation along with other groups such as the New York City Pension Funds, has filed a resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories in the company’s EEO policy.

“The SEC has cleared a path to progress for the thousands of LGBT people employed by ExxonMobil,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

“The company has been aggressively resistant to change and is way out of step with their direct competitors as well as the majority of Fortune 500 companies. Given this opportunity for change, we call on the ExxonMobil shareholders to adopt a legally binding policy that protects all employees. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli deserves special recognition for his ongoing dedication to ensuring good corporate citizenship and for helping ExxonMobil’s LBGT employees,” said Solmonese, in a statement.

On HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, ExxonMobil received a score of -25. In contrast, oil and gas companies such as Chevron, BP, Shell, and Spectra received scores of 85 or higher.

As of 2012, 85 % of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their EEO policy and 50% include gender identity.

According to DiNapoli’s office, this is the the first time that ExxonMobil had challenged the shareholder resolution.

The comptroller’s office has filed similar resolutions with the Irving, Texas-based company since 2008.

Last year, the proposal garnered significant support in the shareholders’ vote, representing over 500 million shares with a market value of more than $42.4 billion, according to the comptroller’s office.

A spokesman for the comptroller said they were “optimistic” that the vote total will be even higher this year when the annual shareholder meeting takes place on May 30.

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