ExxonMobil is the world's largest company by revenue, but it also holds the honor of being the lowest-ranking Fortune 500 company in terms of anti-discrimination policies. The oil giant doubled down on that second ranking this week as the company's shareholders voted by an overwhelming 81% majority to reject nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees.
The company's disappointing vote comes amidst the stalled discussion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in Congress. ENDA bans workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans nationally and would nullify Exxon's vote.
“Exxon remains on the wrong side of history for its business, for its workers, and for the American people," said Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, in a statement. Exxon's competitor like Chevron have all expanded their equal opportunity policies to include protections for LGBT workers. There are 29 states in the U.S. that do not offer those protections either.
If Congress was to pass ENDA, Exxon's shareholders' vote would be nullified. Exxon has been accused of an anti-gay bias by Almeida's freedom to work which is currently sueing the company. MSNBC interviewed Almeida after the vote and also requested comment from Exxon spokesman. Almeida is apparently willing to settle the lawsuit immediately if Exxon expanded its policies.
I have previously written about ENDA and the bipartisan support it has garnered this year. The growing wave of LGBT support is proof of a national movement which Congress is trying to keep up with. ENDA is expected to pass the Senate this year but the House may be a different story. The Republican majority in the House will present roadblocks to the law's passage despite evidence that voting for LGBT rights does not negatively affect polling numbers. Speaker Boehner is already showing his lack of concern for ENDA when he told the Washington Blade “I haven’t seen the bill. I haven’t thought much about it.”
It is unclear why Exxon's shareholders so overwhelmingly voted against protections for LGBT employees however there policy is unlikely to stand for too long even if ENDA fails to pass through Congress President Obama has the authority to sign an executive order that would ban federal contracts to companies that allow such discrimination. The executive order tactic would be swift and painful for Exxon, forcing them to either lose all government business or be more inclusive of its employees. Were President Obama to go this route he would also be showing his support for ENDA in a sign to Congress.
Sadly it is unlikely that he would take such a measure given his recent spat of scandals. Additionally, ENDA is not even high on the priorities of Democrat politicians unlike the health care and international security debates that are currently ongoing. Even if companies like Exxon, or our Congress stall on protecting LGBT Americans there is enough momentum in national public debate to keep this issues on the table.