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May 29, 2013

DiNapoli Calls For End To Discrimination At ExxonMobil

Resolution asks Company to Implement Policies that Explicitly Ban Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli will take his case to ExxonMobil shareholders on Wednesday for the fourth consecutive year as the New York State Common Retirement Fund’s (Fund) resolution (page 69) calling on the company to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity heads to a vote.

“ExxonMobil remains an obstinate outlier among Fortune 500 companies by its failure to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” DiNapoli said. “This lack of an explicit policy sends a message that applicants and employees can be discriminated against on the basis of non-job related criteria. It just doesn't make sense from a bottom-line standpoint.”

As fiduciary and trustee of the $160.4 billion Fund, DiNapoli has been the prime sponsor of the resolution since 2010, though the resolution has been brought forth annually since 1999. In 2013, eighty-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted sexual-orientation anti-discrimination policies and 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies include protections for gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Companies suffer potential reputational and litigation risk and are unable to draw from the widest pool of talent possible to grow their business when they do not provide protections for all of its employees and applicants.

ExxonMobil’s Standards of Business Conduct in the United States, found on its website, states:

It is the policy of the Exxon Mobil Corporation to provide equal employment opportunity in conformance with all applicable laws and regulations to individuals who are qualified to perform job requirements regardless of their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, citizenship status, age, genetic information, physical or mental disability, veteran or other legally protected status.

Omitted is any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The lack of a formal equal opportunity non-discrimination policy that explicitly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity allows ExxonMobil to offer different health benefits to its employees with same-sex partners. In correspondence with the Fund, ExxonMobil stated that:

Our long-standing belief is that basing employee benefits on legally-recognized, spousal relationships that are broadly recognized within the country is the only way our benefit plans can be applied in a fair, rational and consistent manner for our employees worldwide...In the United States, our plans use a definition of “spouse” consistent with the use of that term under federal law, in order to achieve uniform plan application consistent with the plans’ being governed by federal law (the Employee Retirement Security Income Security Act or ERISA). This has the effect of limiting coverage to heterosexual couples.

While the company is permitted by law to recognize married same-sex couples, it has refused to do so.

Since Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, ExxonMobil has come under fire for its decision to cease offering health-care benefits for its employees' same-sex partners. Previous to the merger, Mobil had a policy that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and extended domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign gave ExxonMobil the lowest ranking (-25 percent) of any Fortune 500 company in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

Since 2010, DiNapoli has reached agreements with 30 companies, including Sprint Nextel Corporation, Equifax, Inc., Sanderson Farms, Inc. Dollar General Corporation and Noble Energy Inc., to adopt new non-discrimination policies, including three in 2013: Holly Frontier Corporation, Mettler-Toledo International, Inc. and RPM International, Inc.

As of May 17, the Fund owned 14,103,456 shares of ExxonMobil valued at $1.3 billion.

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