The Illinois Human Rights Commission granted a significant victory to the Freedom to Work group, and to advocates for LGBT rights in Illinois and beyond: they overturned a previous decision the Illinois Department of Human Rights had made that Freedom to Work lacked jurisdiction to participate in this case, and further, that the cases lacked an employer-employee relationship.
The case is based on a setup of Freedom to Work to trick ExxonMobil, a supergiant gas and oil provider in the United States known also for its sluggish and resistant progress towards accepting LGBT rights, into exposing their bias in hiring practices. They sent two fictitious résumés to ExxonMobil, one with a candidate that was highly qualified, but mentioned working for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and the other a less qualified candidate who mentioned nothing about sexual identity and appeared straight. The straight applicant received multiple call backs, the LGBT none.
ExxonMobil called the complaint “baseless and without merit,” having their spokesperson Scott Silvestri say, “Sexual orientation played no role in the hiring process. ExxonMobil has a longstanding policy that strictly prohibits any form of discrimination by or toward employees, contractors, suppliers, and customers in any ExxonMobil workplace. Our global, zero-tolerance policy applies to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
So they claim, but now the courts can decide. Seyfarth Shaw, a Chicago-based international law firm, will defend ExxonMobil, while Freedom to Work will work with attorney Peter Romer-Friedman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
“The Respondent’s dismissal of Freedom to Work’s charge is VACATED and Freedom to Work’s charge is REINSTATED and REMANDED to the Respondent for FURTHER INVESTIGATION and other proceedings to consistent with with this Order and Act,” stated the order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
“We are relieved but not surprised by the state agency’s decision that Freedom to Work and other civil rights groups have the right to challenge unlawful discrimination, including Exxon’s sexual orientation discrimination,” said Romer-Freidman. “This decision means that Exxon will have to answer tough questions about why it treated a well-qualified LGBT applicant far worse than a straight applicant who had lesser qualifications. The decision also paves the way for other non-profit groups to enforce civil rights laws.”
By enforce, he perhaps means setting up little tricks to stir up further litigation? What Freedom to Work is after is a change in the written policy of Exxon, to emphasize that discrimination against the LGBT community is not to be tolerated, and also they want to collect attorney fees.
The suit carries significant clout, considering that Obama’s executive order barred federal contractors from anti-LGBT discrimination.
“We always knew that Exxon would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into adopting workplace policies that treated LGBT employees with basic fairness,” said Freedom to Work Founder Tico Almeida, as reported by the Washington Blade. “There are now two big reasons that 2014 might finally be the year Exxon makes these long overdue changes. First, Freedom to Work’s legal victory means Exxon will have to continue wasting its own shareholder’s dollars on expensive legal defense when it could settle this case simply by copying and pasting the LGBT workplace policies of their competitors at oil companies Chevron or BP. Second, President Obama’s newly signed executive order will go into effect in early 2015 and require Exxon to amend its LGBT policies if Exxon wants to continue profiting from hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts. This oil giant has a lot to lose here, and it should be clear that the clock is ticking and it’s now time to update Exxon’s policies to give LGBT Americans a fair shot on the job.”