ExxonMobil, long one of the largest corporate holdouts on LGBT equality, today announced that it will extend spousal benefits to gay employees.
The company says it will recognize “all legal marriages” when it determines eligibility for health care plans for the company’s 77,000 employees and retirees in the U.S. That means if a gay employee has been married in a state or country where gay marriage is legal, his or her spouse will be eligible for benefits with Exxon in the U.S. as of Oct. 1. Exxon, which is facing a same-sex discrimination complaint in Illinois, said it was following the lead of the U.S. government. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which had allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. In recent months, federal agencies have begun to offer benefits to legally-married same sex couples. “We haven’t changed our eligibility criteria. It has always been to follow the federal definition and it will continue to follow the federal definition,” said Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers in an interview.
Freedom To Work reacts via press release:
“Today is a victory for the freedom to work. After years of stubbornly refusing, we commend Exxon for joining the majority of the Fortune 500 business leaders that already treat gay and lesbian married couples equally under employee benefit plans,” said Tico Almeida, founder and president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work. “It’s a shame Exxon waited until after the Labor Department issued official guidance explaining that their old policy does not comply with American law, and now it’s time to move forward.”
“We’d like to begin settlement talks next week in our Illinois lawsuit stemming from evidence that Exxon gave hiring preference to a less qualified straight applicant over a more qualified lesbian applicant,” added Almeida. “It’s time for Exxon to stop wasting its shareholders’ money by running up legal bills on discrimination proceedings that can be settled right away if the corporation would simply add LGBT protections to Exxon’s official equal employment opportunity document.”
The Human Rights Campaign notes that the company still does not include LGBT employees in its official non-discrimination policies.
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,” said Deena Fidas, director of the HRC Workplace Equality Program. “There is no federal law protecting employees from discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity and ExxonMobil refuses to join the majority of their Fortune 500 colleagues in adopting their own such policies. 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?”