Strong corporate ally may face legal action with 1st complaint filed under San Antonio’s new nondiscrimination ordinance
SAN ANTONIO — A transgender AT&T employee has filed the first complaint under San Antonio’s new nondiscrimination ordinance, which protects against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The complaint filed Tuesday alleges that Matthew Hileman reported a negative conversation about trans people and was later outed as trans. He then was asked to leave until the situation blew over but was later told not to return. The complaint alleges he was fired for being trans or possibly because of his sex or sexual orientation.
Hileman worked for Resource Global Professionals as a subcontractor since May, working exclusively at AT&T in San Antonio. While the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance differs from that of Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth by protecting against discrimination in employment for city employees only, the ordinance also protects against discrimination in housing and public accommodations citywide, as well as contractors.
The ordinance states that San Antonio contracts must contain nondiscrimination language and “AT&T has current and active contracts with the City, which make is (sic) to the provisions and requirements of the NDO.” Violations are a class-C misdemeanor, which is the highest offense for a city ordinance and is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Openly gay attorney Justin Nichols filed the complaint Tuesday in a letter to Deputy City Attorney Veronica M. Zertuche on behalf of Hileman.
Nichols said finding out how to file the complaint was “actually quite difficult” because there’s no city form since the ordinance is new, having been passed Sept. 5. Hileman said he didn’t know how to file the complaint and spoke to people in Houston and Dallas about how to file one.
San Antonio City Attorney Robbie Greenblum said his office would investigate the complaint, which he confirmed is the first one filed. Since the measure is still new, he said the form for complaints is still being developed.
As for the contractor element, Greenblum said AT&T won’t be subject to the class-C misdemeanor or the fine. Instead, the city attorney’s office will investigate the allegations and work with Hileman to resolve the issue with AT&T. If that doesn’t work, he said several solutions, including terminating AT&T’s contract with the city, would be explored.
Asked about possible further legal action, Nichols said they’re “keeping all of our options open.”
Hileman said he transitioned at the beginning of 2007 and considered his transition complete at the end of that year when he had his gender marker changed. He wasn’t out at work and had never had a problem with employees making ant-gay or anti-trans comments.
However, during the discussion about the ordinance over the summer, he overheard two employees in their cubicle discuss how unnecessary the measure was and threatened to harm trans men they found in the restroom. The debate around the ordinance was heated for months and included a restroom clause at one point before passing the council on Sept. 5. It took effect immediately.
Hileman complained about the conversation to his immediate supervisor and at some point it was disclosed to the men who made the comments that Hileman was trans and had reported their conversation.
He then returned to work and found a “no” sign on his desk with the word “fag” on it, similar to a no smoking sign. He called his supervisor and said he didn’t feel safe. Since people knew he was trans, he didn’t want to be reassigned because he thought more people would figure out why he was transferred. Managers debated how to move him or the two men, and ended up offering to have an executive come and discus AT&T’s views on discrimination to help the atmosphere but not single him out.
“I was like ‘wow, that would be great,’” Hileman said. “That was all I ever heard of it.”
Instead, AT&T requested the sign and told him to take some time off and take his things. He later received an email in late September, stating they’d mail him the rest of his things.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company is taking the situation seriously.
“AT&T makes diversity and inclusion a top priority, and has received national recognition for its programs and performance,” Richter told Dallas Voice in an email. “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. We take an allegation like this very seriously.”After not being reassigned, Hileman filed for unemployment in October. Nichols said Hileman’s complaints were mishandled.
“Eventually he filed for unemployment claims because he wasn’t being paid, and it went uncontested, which demonstrates to us that somewhere he’d been terminated,” Nichols said. “This is kind of a weird case because he did say ‘I feel unsafe working here,’ but there was no ‘I quit,’ there was no ‘You’re fired.’ It was just passive what happened.”
Hileman said at one point AT&T managers considered how the NDO would affect how they’d handle the conversation since it happened the day before the ordinance was passed. But Hileman said AT&T’s corporate inclusive policies protect against discrimination and harassment of LGBT employees.
He said he hopes the complaint brings equality to the local AT&T level.
“It’s very interesting that there’s a lack of equality, I think, on many levels for the way it was handled,” Hileman said.
To view the complaint, go here.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 10, 2014.