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Gay and Lesbian Employees Still Face Workplace Discrimination

June 23, 2013

When Exxon Mobile shareholders were first asked to formally protect gay and lesbian workers from discrimination, things were very different.
It was 1999. There were no states that recognized gay marriage. There are now 12. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy had been in full effect in the military since 1993. It was abolished in 2011. It was also in 1999 that the murderer of Matthew Shepard, a gay student from the University of Wyoming who was tortured before being brutally slain, was convicted. Since then, numerous states have introduced hate crime legislation that increases criminal penalties for targeting people on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.

But Los Angeles Employment Discrimination Lawyer Vincent Howard of HOWARD LAW knows that one thing hasn't changed: Exxon's stance on the issue of gay and lesbian worker protections. This marks the 14th straight year that the company has rejected a proposal at its annual shareholder meeting to implement such protections.

Exxon is not alone in its behind-the-times status. But soon, a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act could render those types of lacking policies completely obsolete, leaving firms like Exxon vulnerable to discrimination litigation.

Thankfully for California workers, we live in one of the 16 states plus the District of Columbia which has anti-discrimination employment laws that cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. Although there is no formal federal law that protects both classes, we do have a 2012 ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that extends Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination to those who are transgender and gender non-conforming.

The Movement Advancement Project estimates that there are approximately 1.1 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals living in the state today, comprising about 4 percent of the population.

California's record protecting the rights of those in the LGBT community is strong. In addition to non-discrimination in employment, there are also protections against discrimination in housing, to protect against hate crimes, to allow adoptions by same-sex couples and to allow gay couples to make medical decisions for one another.

Still, companies like Exxon continue to perpetuate policies that seem to encourage discrimination; or at the very least, these policies do little to stop it. Exxon maintains it isn't bound by state laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which would pre-empt state law.

A ruling on the constitutional challenge to DOMA is expected soon.

From a business perspective, positions like Exxon make little sense for a number of reasons. Again, not only does it make these firms vulnerable to potential litigation, it also has the potential to restrict its chances to attract and keep the top talent in the field. The message that is being sent out is that factors other than your job performance and qualification are going to matter. That's not something that makes prospective employees eager to jump aboard.

It's worth noting that Exxon has complied with anti-discrimination laws in countries where it has been forced to do so, even going so far as to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. But in the U.S., the company has gone to great lengths to avoid extending those same benefits and protections to workers here. The firm reportedly ranks last in the Fortune 1,000 list of Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. Out of a 100 score, it received a negative 25.

Los Angeles Employment Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.

Additional Resources:
Exxon Defies Calls to Add Gays to Anti-Bias Policy, May 24, 2013, By James B. Stewart, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
California Discrimination Case Results in $7.5M Settlement, May 28, 2013, Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Blog