Issuing an executive order banning LGBT workplace discrimination was a critical step. Enforcing it will make history.
September 02 2014 5:00 AM ET
Below at right: Obama signs the executive order to protect LGBT employees on July 21, 2014
On July 21, President Obama issued a landmark executive order protecting LGBT workers from job discrimination.
The order prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment by amending an existing order
banning sexual orientation discrimination within the federal workforce.
It also prohibits the federal government from contracting with
companies that discriminate against their employees on the basis of
sexual orientation or gender identity by amending an order prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
better place is there to start enforcing the executive order than with
Exxon Mobil, the worst-rated company in the history of the Human Rights
Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index? Until Exxon finally implements
employment nondiscrimination protections for its LGBT employees and
works to create an equal-opportunity environment, the federal government
should cancel Exxon’s $424 million in 2014 primary contracts (as of
August 7) and refuse to sign new ones. Exxon is also a subcontractor on
additional contracts, but these dollar amounts are not publicly
available. These, too, should be canceled and no new ones signed.
Exxon has received over $6.6 billion in federal (prime) contracts since 2005,
largely for fuel for the U.S. Department of Defense. Yet even among oil
and gas companies — one of the least gay-friendly industries in the
nation, according to HRC
— Exxon is a standout. It is the only major oil company on the
Corporate Equality Index to deny protections for both sexual orientation
and gender identity to its employees (though Marathon and Valero
provide only the former).
The cover of The Advocate’s “Best Companies” issue one year ago exposed “Exxon’s Gay Shame.”
In the article, I explored Exxon’s legacy as one of the most antigay
corporations in the nation and answered the question “What’s wrong with
In 2012, 2013, and 2014, Exxon received a -25 out of 100
possible points in HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index. It is the
lowest score ever received by any corporation, and no other company has
received a negative score. Exxon fails to meet a single one of HRC’s
criteria for an LGBT-inclusive workplace, and for 16 years — most
recently in May 2014 — it has worked against annual shareholder
resolutions calling for such inclusion. Exxon even erased
nondiscriminatory and partner benefit policies in place at companies it
purchased: Mobil Oil Corporation in 1999, and XTO Energy in 2010. It is
also under investigation by the Illinois Department of Human Rights for
discriminating in its hiring practices on the basis of sexual
After “Exxon’s Gay Shame” went to print, Exxon
announced that beginning October 1, 2013, it would recognize legally
married same-sex couples when determining eligibility for benefit plans
for its 77,000 employees and retirees in the U.S. Exxon was adopting new
federal tax rules introduced following the Supreme Court’s DOMA
decision in June 2013.
Exxon’s policy, however, is not applied
company-wide and therefore fails to satisfy the Corporate Equality
Index’s benefit requirements. The policy applies only to employees
married in states that have legalized same-sex marriage. The vast
majority of Exxon’s U.S. employees live in Texas, a state without
legalized same-sex marriage. Exxon would not provide information on how
many same-sex spouses or family members have received benefits.
contends that it already protects its LGBT employees, explaining in a
widely circulated statement which spokesman Alan Jeffers emailed to me:
“Exxon Mobil’s global policies prohibit all forms of discrimination in
any company workplace, anywhere in the world. This includes
discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
HRC calls this statement “a lie” and “a master class in doublespeak.”
It is not drawn from Exxon’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy,
which enumerates every protected category, including age, race, sex,
and religion, but does not include sexual orientation or gender identity
and therefore does not provide equivalent legal protection. “Having a
nondiscrimination policy is very black-and- white,” says HRC workplace
project director Deena Fidas. “Exxon does not have one.”
The good news: Jeffers says that Exxon will comply with the
president’s executive order and any applicable Department of Labor
regulations. Jeffers also agreed with me that these regulations — which
the DOL has 90 days from the date of the order to prepare — will likely
require that companies enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity
protections directly in their EEO.
But Fidas met these assurances
with skepticism. “Exxon has a spotty record when it comes to honest
representations of their polices, and until we see the actual
nondiscrimination statement at Exxon change, we cannot know for sure
that they are in fact intent on following the executive order.”
Exxon will also likely need to do more than just change the words of its EEO. The existing executive
order requires contractors to “take affirmative action to insure that
equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment.” The
new regulations, therefore, will also likely require that companies go
beyond the EEO to take proactive steps to ensure an LGBT- inclusive
workplace, such as employee education, training, outreach, and
recruitment and retention plans for LGBT employees.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Labor, whose Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs enforces the order, would comment on what approach would now be taken toward Exxon.
is clear is that once the new regulations are issued, Exxon Mobil must
make significant changes to its LGBT policies and practices. If it fails
to do so, canceling its contracts is the perfect place to begin turning
the president’s landmark words on paper into a real-world means of
ANTONIA JUHASZ is an oil and energy analyst and investigative journalist. She is the author of several books on the industry, including The Tyranny of Oil. Her writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Times. @AntoniaJuhasz