Dramatic Increase in Support for Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Proposal at ExxonMobil(Archive)
DALLAS — A proposal that ExxonMobil add the words “sexual orientation” to its nondiscrimination policy drew 13 percent of shareholders’ votes at the company’s annual meeting on May 30. This percentage vote represents a 75 percent increase over last year. Proponents of the proposal declared victory, noting that the results assure that the shareholders can come back with the same proposal next year. The proposal was presented by Shelley Alpern, Trillium Asset Management’s director of social research and advocacy; Phillip Winston, the gay great-grandson of two of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining (one of the original companies from which ExxonMobil was formed); and Ken Sylvester of the New York City Employees Retirement System.
“We are elated by the voting results, which demonstrate that a growing number of powerful institutional investors understand the ethical motivations and business rationale behind our proposal,” said Shelley Alpern, director of social research and advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, a Boston-based investment firm that co-sponsored the proposal. She attributed the high level of support to the Equality Project’s aggressive, grassroots-based lobbying of institutional shareholders.
“I am extremely pleased that 13 percent of ExxonMobil’s shareholders joined with the New York City Employees Retirement System and the other co-sponsors of the resolution to tell the company that its existing policies regarding gay and lesbian employees are wrong and must be changed to offer equal protection on the basis of sexual orientation,” said New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, a trustee of NYCERS, which filed the proposal. “That is an improvement from 8 percent last year. Though we still have much work to do to bring ExxonMobil in line with other energy companies such as Shell, Texaco and Enron, which have already adopted such policies, I take heart in the increase in support for the resolution over last year’s vote. I guarantee that we will be back again in Dallas next year and will continue to fight for the rights of ExxonMobil’s lesbian and gay employees.”
Joining Trillium Asset Management and NYCERS in the filing were the New York State Common Retirement Fund; the Unitarian Universalist Association; the Human Rights Campaign; and individual co-filers Marianne Weil, Dr. Ellen Birenbaum, Steve Strauss and Dr. Kenneth Jones. The investors are affiliated with The Equality Project, a non-profit group that applies investor pressure to corporations to advance progressive workplace policies for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people.
New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall reacted to the vote with this statement: “The increased support for this resolution reflects a growing concern among shareholders that Exxon Mobil’s policies do not offer adequate protection to gay and lesbian employees. Investors recognize that long-term economic value depends on the corporation’s ability to establish a culture that promotes equal opportunity, respect and cooperation. We will continue to urge Exxon Mobil to do the right thing by adopting and implementing a policy that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
This was the third consecutive year that advocates asked ExxonMobil (formerly Exxon) to amend this policy. The proposal received the highest percentage of support (representing more than 364 million shares, valued at $32 billion) of eight shareholder-sponsored resolutions voted on at Wednesday’s meeting in Dallas.
“This huge vote increase over last year further demonstrates that Americans believe job discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong,” said Kim I. Mills, education director of the Human Rights Campaign, which co-filed the resolution. “As shareholders ourselves, we will continue to press ExxonMobil to change its written policy because it’s smart business — and it’s the right thing to do.”
Mobil Corp. offered such written protection, and domestic partner benefits, to its lesbian and gay employees. But these policies were revoked shortly after the 1999 merger, provoking outrage in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community and its allies. Twenty-four members of Congress, and thousands of stockholders and consumers, wrote to ExxonMobil Chairman Lee R. Raymond in December 1999 to protest the policy reversals. In January 2000, stockholders and activists protested at a company facility in Houston, causing the facility to close for the day.
At the May 2000 annual meeting, Raymond brushed aside discussion on changing his company’s written equal employment opportunity policy, stating that interested parties should “go pass a federal law instead.”
The majority of Fortune 500 Companies, including 41 of the Fortune 50, have policies in place that expressly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks such trends. In recent years, the Equality Project has negotiated such policies with Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, General Electric, American Home Products, and most recently, American International Group and Home Depot.
Twelve states and more than 225 U.S. cities and counties outlaw job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Irving, Texas, where ExxonMobil is headquartered, is not one of them – nor are many of the other cities, states and countries where ExxonMobil does business.