By Anna Driver
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), the world's largest publicly traded oil company, has changed its U.S. employment policies to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as now required by federal law.
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said Friday the company's board approved the policy change at a meeting on Wednesday and noted that the oil company "always updates its policies to comply with the laws where we work."
Investors had pressed for the change for years, filing shareholder proposals for Exxon to guarantee protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1999.
Exxon has previously resisted making the change, saying it already prohibited all forms of discrimination at its offices anywhere in the world.
But lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people now are federally protected classes. In July, President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
The U.S. government relies on supply contracts for fuels from many oil companies, which also have lease agreements to work on federal lands or offshore.
An organization that monitors companies' LGBT policies suggested Exxon's policy change was a calculated one while New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who pushed for the move, welcomed it.
"To articulate its policy through the lens of legal conformance is not an affirmative changing of course and full adoption of equality, but instead a calibrated response to retain government contracts," said Deena Fidas of The Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
DiNapoli, who oversees 12 million Exxon shares, said: "We commend Exxon for joining its many Fortune 500 peers and investors in the 21st Century where LGBT rights are synonymous with civil rights.”
In September 2013, Exxon said it would extend benefits to spouses of its U.S workers in same-sex marriages. At the time, it was a sweeping reversal by one the world's top companies following a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that led to same-sex couple eligibility for federal benefits.
Exxon's peers including Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and BP Plc (BP.N) are known for their more liberal policies for gay and transgender workers.
(Editing by Terry Wade and Grant McCool)