Exxon Will Give Gay Couples Equal Benefits, But Still Won’t Promise Not To Fire LGBT Workers

“[W]hat good are benefits for your same-sex spouse if you risk being fired for disclosing your sexual orientation in order to access them?”

Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

WASHINGTON — On Friday, Exxon Mobil announced it would begin giving married same-sex couples equal benefits — a change trumpeted by Reuters as “a sweeping and symbolic change by a corporate titan.”

Despite the change, however, the company’s policies are such that an employee who gets such benefits could be fired by the company simply for being gay — with no recourse within the company and, in some states, with no legal recourse under state law.

Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida told BuzzFeed on Friday afternoon, “A gay Exxon employee in Mississippi will have to come forward to HR and declare, in paperwork, that he is gay and that he has a same-sex spouse in order to get these benefits. That gay employee opens himself up to harassment and denied promotions and even unjust firing, simply because of who he is.”

Exxon Mobil, unlike the majority of Fortune 500 companies, has no nondiscrimination policy protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. Additionally, Mississippi has no state-based protections for LGBT workers. The Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program director Deena Fidas agreed with Almeida.

“Granting health benefits to all married couples is a step toward equality but it is certainly not the kind of leadership exhibited by ExxonMobil’s competitors. One has to wonder, what good are benefits for your same-sex spouse if you risk being fired for disclosing your sexual orientation in order to access them?” she said in a statement.

Because of Exxon’s unwillingness to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, Almeida’s organization sued Exxon Mobil in Illinois earlier this year, claiming that it could prove that the company discriminates against LGBT people in its hiring.

“It’s time for Exxon to take the next logical step and adopt the same LGBT anti-discrimination policy that its competitors at Chevron, BP and Shell long ago adopted,” Almeida said of Friday’s news. “Freedom to Work hopes to engage Exxon’s counsel next week, and once again offer to settle this lawsuit if they will simply cut and paste Chevron’s policy.”

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.
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