Exxon Mobil accused of anti-gay bias

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NEW YORK -- One after another, major U.S. corporations have updated anti-discrimination policies to protect gay, lesbian and transgender workers, drawing plaudits from gay-rights groups. There's one prominent exception: Exxon Mobil Corp.

In the latest rankings of such corporate policies by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, many of Exxon's Fortune 500 counterparts got scores of 80 or higher on a scale of 100. Exxon, the nation's largest oil and gas company, became the first firm to get a score below zero.

On Wednesday, in the latest attempt to pressure the company into change, a gay-rights group called Freedom to Work teamed with a high-powered Washington law firm to file what they described as a groundbreaking discrimination complaint against Exxon in Illinois.

The complaint, filed with the state's Department of Human Rights, says Exxon was sent two nearly identical resumes for a job opening at its office in Patoka, Ill. The only substantive differences were that one of the fictional applicants was clearly depicted as a gay-rights activist, and had higher college and high-school grades than the other applicant.

According to the complaint, Exxon's human resources office at its home base in Texas confirmed receipt of both applications, then made several efforts to contact the applicant with the lower grades to set up an interview. The applicant who indicated she was gay received no such follow-ups.

"Exxon has repeatedly claimed they do not discriminate," said Freedom to Work's president, Tico Almeida. "We are bringing forward proof they've broken the law, and we're hopeful this compelling case will move them over the tipping point."

An Exxon Mobil spokesman, Charles Engelmann, said the company was reviewing the complaint, and had no immediate comment on its allegations.

The Washington-based law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which often works with advocacy groups on workplace discrimination cases, has provided two of its attorneys to handle the Freedom to Work complaint. One of them, Peter Romer-Friedman, contended that Exxon's handling of the two job applications was a clear violation of Illinois' anti-discrimination law.

Illinois is one of 21 states that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Texas, where Exxon is based, has no such law.

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