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Exxon Mobil Halts Health Benefits to Domestic Partners

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Newly merged Exxon Mobil Corp. said Monday that it will cease offering health-care benefits to its employees’ domestic partners, touching off heated criticism among gay rights advocates.

A spokesman for the company said executives overseeing the union of the two oil giants had approved what amounts to an extension of the former Exxon Corp.'s policy.

Under the new policy, which took effect in the Nov. 30 merger, the company offers benefits only to spouses in “legally valid” marriages, spokesman Tom Cirigliano said.

Mobil had offered domestic-partnership coverage since last year. Exxon Mobil will continue extending benefits to unmarried partners of Mobil employees who already were enrolled in the benefits plan. But no new partners can join the health plan.

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“We believe that basing benefits coverage on a legally recognized relationship eliminates the need for the company to establish criteria of its own with which to assess the legitimacy of any relationship,” Cirigliano said.

Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights lobbying organization, derided the move as a “huge step back in time” and a break from the trend among major corporations to offer domestic-partner benefits.

“The new company clearly does not believe in equal pay for equal work--because that’s what these benefits are,” said Kim Mills, the group’s education director. “This move is bad for business, it’s bad for employee morale and it demonstrates that Exxon Mobil’s human resources policies are mired in the past.”

Companies that provide benefits to unmarried partners include Boeing Co., IBM, Microsoft, Walt Disney Co. and Times Mirror Co. A spokesman for BP Amoco said the company had offered benefits to partners of former Amoco employees since last year and will extend them to partners of the merged firm’s employees beginning in April.

Some municipalities also have introduced same-sex partner benefits. In Los Angeles, about 3% of the city work force have taken advantage of the benefits. Last month, the City Council approved a law requiring large city contractors to offer health benefits to their employees’ partners. Seattle followed a few days later.

Employment experts expressed shock at Exxon Mobil’s decision.

“It would seem extraordinary to me that a company would back away from a policy that has demonstrative positive effects on recruitment and retention,” said Eric Rolfe Greenberg, director of management studies for the American Management Assn. in New York. “In refusing to grant such benefits, inevitably one is saying to talented people, ‘We don’t think you deserve this.’ ”

Only 71 of the Fortune 500 companies either offer same-sex partner benefits or have plans to do so. Yet while providing such benefits has sometimes proved controversial, only a handful of firms have rescinded domestic-partner benefits plans.

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Perot Systems, owned by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, introduced same-sex partner benefits in 1996, then quit offering them at the start of last year.

A spokeswoman for Perot’s company said it does “not single out a particular lifestyle choice.”

“We just offer the same across the company for everybody.”


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