San Antonio drags feet on AT&T discrimination complaint

Posted on 21 Feb 2014 at 9:30am

City hasn’t started to investigate the matter, while AT&T has concluded internal investigation, finding it’s not at fault for trans man’s firing

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

SAN ANTONIO —  The strength of the city of San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance is being challenged by an attorney representing a trans man who alleges he was fired for his gender identity.

Matthew Hileman

Matthew Hileman

It took five weeks for the city to respond to requests by Justin Nichols, the attorney representing Matthew Hileman in his complaint with AT&T. Nichols and city officials sat down this week to discus the progress of the complaint, which was filed Jan. 7 by Nichols in a letter to the city.

“With all the debate and hard-fought struggles that went in to the NDO, it’s disappointing that now we’re kind of in limbo, and this certainly isn’t sending a message that the ordinance has any teeth,” Nichols said.

The complaint alleges that Hileman reported a negative conversation about trans people and was later outed as trans. He then was asked to leave until the situation was resolved but was later told not to return. The nondiscrimination ordinance passed in September by the San Antonio City Council after much heated debate. It protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The protections for employment only pertain to city employees, but Hillman worked with AT&T for Resource Global Professionals. AT&T, a contractor with the city, is therefore subject to the ordinance because it also protects against bias among contractors.

Deputy City Attorney Veronica Zertuche informed Nichols in a letter that the city would investigate the compliant if another entity had found proof of discrimination.

But the ordinance doesn’t require another entity to determine that discrimination occurred for the city to investigate complaints. Nichols requested the city’s procedure for handling complaints or whether the city intends to create a procedure, which are still being determined.

“If this is the position that the city is taking, then the NDO is rendered useless to the LGBT community,” Nichols said.

San Antonio City Attorney Robbie Greenblum, who previously told Dallas Voice his office would investigate the claim, clarified the meaning of the letter to Nichols. He said the claims by Hileman, which have only been filed with the city in the form of a letter and not a formal complaint, must be substantiated by documentation by Hileman or another entity’s investigation for the city to accept the complaint.

“What we’ve asked is that he provide some substantiation of the claims of discrimination so that we can move forward under our own ordinance,” Greenblum said. “It’s not that we’re not going to investigate it; it’s that we need to receive [documentation].”

Greenblum said the meeting this week was productive. Since the complaint is the first one under the new ordinance, he said the city is still in the process of establishing the procedure for handling complaints under the NDO and that information and forms will eventually be added to the city’s website.

After the meeting with the city attorney, Nichols said he is confident in the process the city is establishing to handle complaints. He still plans to file an EEOC complaint on behalf of Hileman as well.

“I can say, after speaking with the city attorney, I’m convinced they truly wish to give full effect to the NDO,” he wrote in an email to Dallas Voice. “The mechanics of exactly how that works is still being refined and developed, but I can tell you I will be working with Mr. Hileman to supplement his complaint with sworn statements and supporting documentation, which will be necessary in the forthcoming EEOC complaint anyway.  To sum it up, I believe the city wants to work towards a positive resolution. Whether AT&T steps up to the plate remains to be seen.”

Nichols has had even less communication with AT&T, a longtime corporate ally of the LGBT community.

“I continue to be disappointed by AT&T’s refusal to proactively engage in this process,” he said.  “We renew our invitation to AT&T to make good on its written commitment to equality, and simply meet us at the table for a discussion.”

AT&T has already completed its investigation and found Hileman’s claims to be false, according to an e-mail from AT&T lawyer Diego Peña to Nichols.

Nichols said the response by AT&T contradicts the company’s longstanding nondiscrimination policy and inclusive procedures.

“It’s very easy to put on paper. But believing in something and then acting on those beliefs are two different things,” he said about the company.

If AT&T is found at fault under the ordinance, the company won’t be subjected to the class-C misdemeanor and a $500 fine because it is a contract. Instead, Greenblum said city officials will work to resolve the complaint and possibly terminate AT&T’s contract as one of many solutions.

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