There are still 29 states where a person can be fired for being gay, but Illinois is not one of them. Nevertheless, it seems that ExxonMobil attempted to discriminate against a prospective employee in that state merely because the individual identified as gay, instead proactively pursuing a less qualified straight candidate for the same position. This was no mere circumstance, but an intentional experiment run by the organization Freedom to Work, which is now suing ExxonMobil for violating the Illinois Human Rights Act.
According to the complaint, Freedom to Work began its testing after ExxonMobil refused to adopt a nondiscrimination policy that included protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the unfair treatment, a spokesman for the oil giant, Charles Engelmann, doubled down on the claim that the company doesn’t discriminate:
ENGELMANN: ExxonMobil’s global policies and processes prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world. In fact, our policies go well beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination.
ExxonMobil’s actions tell a different story. It has the distinction of being the first company to ever earn a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Not only do none of its policies protect LGBT employees, but the company also engages in activities that undermine LGBT equality. It claims to have a “Corporate Citizenship Report” with a “zero-tolerance” policy for anti-LGBT discrimination, but that document does not have the same legal force as an actual Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement. Mobil had such a statement, but when the two companies merged in 1999, Exxon stripped it away. When shareholders attempted to introduce an LGBT-inclusive EEO statement last year, ExxonMobil actually tried to block it from coming up for a vote. Though they were unsuccessful at blocking the vote, it was overwhelmingly defeated by 80 percent of shareholders.
If ExxonMobil believes that its “zero-tolerance” policy truly protects its LGBT employees, this lawsuit might just be the perfect test to find out.