NDO Put Through First Test In Complaint Against AT&T
AT&T company leaders are dismissing sexual harassment allegations made by a contracted employee late last year against two of its workers.
The complaint is the city's first since council members passed the controversial non-discrimination ordinance revision.
Last September, as city council debated the revised non-discrimination ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected groups in San Antonio, a case hinging on gender identity harassment was brewing.
Matthew Hileman, a transgender man, was working at AT&T through a specialized consulting firm called Resource Global Professionals (RGP).
An affidavit obtained by Texas Public Radio states the day before the NDO passed, Hileman overheard two AT&T employees talking about the ordinance in a public environment. The statement said the employees expressed their desire and willingness to commit acts of violence against transgender people, especially if they were discovered in the restroom.
That alarmed Hileman.
No one in his department knew Hileman was a transgender man. But after he reported the employees, a supervisor revealed to them Hileman's transgender status. Hileman's attorney, Justin Nichols, said that sparked another derogatory act.
Days later, Hileman went to his desk and found a sign that said "No fags" with a circle and line through it, similar to a "No Smoking" sign. When he found the sign, Hileman immediately left the office in fear.
"He left work that day, emailed his supervisors and said, 'I'm not able to work in this environment anymore,' " said Nichols.
AT&T's investigation finds no evidence of discrimination
The city's policy states that any company that contracts services with the city, including AT&T, must follow the non-discrimination ordinance.
AT&T spokesperson Marty Richter said AT&T makes diversity and inclusion a top priority, and reminded TPR the company received a number one ranking this year on the top employers for LGBT employees list. Ricther said every year since 2004 AT&T has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for fair treatment of its LGBT employees.
"We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort, including that based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion or national origin," Richter said. "We took Mr. Hileman’s allegations very seriously and carefully investigated, and we’re cooperating with the city. But our investigation was unable to substantiate his allegations."
It remains unclear what process was used to come to that conclusion, who conducted the investigation and how long it took. According to a deposition, Hileman said he thought he would keep his job with RGP by being reassigned. But after filing for unemployment and receiving no objection, the document states that he took that as a sign that he'd been terminated.
The consulting firm, RGP, reached out to Hileman for 90 days, asking for him to update his profile and resume and asked if he would be interested in several other assignments.
But RGP Chief Legal Officer Kate Duchene said he never returned correspondence. She said if an employee isn't assigned within 90 days, the employee involuntarily separates from RGP for legal reasons.
Duchene said RGP really liked Hileman as an employee, and added, "Our client really liked him and respected his work."
"We never discriminated against him or retaliated against him for reporting the alleged incidents at AT&T. Instead, we fully supported him throughout his employment with us," said Duchene.
Did the updated NDO work?
Even though AT&T's investigation cleared its employees from any claims of harassment against a transgender person, Hileman's attorney still has a bone to pick with the city.
First, he said there's no easy way to file the complaint.
"Regrettably, they made it unlawful for contractors, but there's no one specifically under the ordinance to whom one should complain," said Nichols. "So finding out who this person was to complain to was our first challenge. The city attorney's office eventually agreed to receive it, so we wrote a letter outlining in pretty specific detail Mr. Hileman's complaints."
Deputy City Attorney Veronica Zertuche said during the process of adopting the revised ordinance, attention was focused on getting the language just right. That, she said, pushed back putting the filing mechanism in place right away.
Secondly, the documents surrounding the complaint support Nichols' claims that the city told him they are ready to respond if AT&T's investigation revealed wrongdoing. But it didn't, and Nichols wonders what the city will do now.
"I think that this is a good test to see what the NDO is made of, if it's going to do what it was intended to do; that the hours and hours and thousands of people who weighed in that the ultimate decision that was made will actually be given effect," Nichols said.
Zertuche admitted a clear avenue for filing a complaint hasn't been worked out yet, although she said she's working on a comprehensive website that will go live in July.
Consequences of a city contractor like AT&T failing to comply with the non-discrimination ordinance could lead to the city ending that contract. The city council would have to discuss the case, she said.
"We want all of our contractors to comply with all the provisions of their particular contract with the city, including this particular one," Zertuche said. "We will be in discussions with the council about the remedies that they'd like to take against any contractor for any deviations from the requirements of their contract."
Hileman now works in Austin and commutes back home to San Antonio every day after work. His attorney said aside from the city's NDO, he may seek damages from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"I am really shocked that two large, otherwise well respected organizations who talk a good game about equality don't seem to be able to admit that there were mistakes made here and show their commitment to equality by just doing the right thing and just having a conversation," said Nichols. "That's really all we've ever asked for, and unfortunately, we haven't gotten it."
He believes a revised non-discrimination ordinance meant to protect more people has only, in this case, caused more finger pointing instead.