AT&T named best company for LGBT employees

AT&T logoIt’s not often that Texas ranks at the top of the heap for anything LGBT, but DiversityInc named Dallas-based AT&T as the best company for LGBT employees.

AT&T was cited as the first company to oppose anti-gay policies at the Sochi Olympics and for its efforts opposing Arizona’s anti-gay law that was vetoed in February.

To compile the list, DiversityInc “looked at best practices that create an inclusive workplace for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) employees as well as relationships with LGBT nonprofits and public advocacy of inclusiveness, such as support for same-gender marriage and public statements opposing homophobic actions.”

Those best practices include:

• Whether the company has an active LGBT employee resource group
• Percentage of philanthropic endeavors aimed at LGBT nonprofits
• Whether the company attempts to track the number of LGBT people in the workplace, including voluntary disclosure
• Whether the corporate website features images and text of LGBT employees, customers or vendors
• Whether the company certifies LGBT vendors with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
• Percentage of procurement spent with certified LGBT vendors

Here are the top 10 companies for LGBT employees:

1. AT&T
2. Wells Fargo
3. MassMutual Financial Group
4. Time Warner
5. Eli Lilly and Company
6. EY
7. KPMG
8. Target
9. IBM
10. Aetna

Several of those companies, such as MassMutual, KPMG and EY, have offices in Dallas.

—  David Taffet

AT&T takes stand against Russian gay discrimination

AT&T logoU.S. Olympic Committee sponsor AT&T has taken a stand against Russian discrimination, standing with the LGBT community.

The Dallas-based company wrote on its Consumer Blog that Human Rights Campaign called on International Olympic Committee sponsors “to take action and stand up for LGBT equality.”

“AT&T is not an IOC sponsor, so we did not receive the HRC request,” the company wrote on its blog. “However, we are a long-standing sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). We support HRC’s principles, and we stand against Russia’s anti-LGBT law.”

The post links to the company’s “Committment to the LGBT community.”

LEAGUE at AT&T was the first LGBT employee resource group at a major corporation.

“AT&T was the first major corporation to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation,” the company wrote on a page entitled “Best Place to Work for LGBT Employees.”

The site also boasts that for the 10th year in a row, AT&T received a perfect score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.

In its press release, AT&T states its support for American athletes and ends with support for the LGBT community:

As the games begin, we’re here to support and inspire American athletes who’ve worked hard and sacrificed much to achieve their dreams. We also want to be on record with our support for the LGBT community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympic Games will do the same.

—  David Taffet

Exxon remains at bottom of new HRC Corporate Equality Index

CEI_2014_ReleaseThe Human Rights Campaign was unimpressed when ExxonMobil began offering partner benefits to its LGBT employees earlier this year. That company retains its minus-25 a score on the new Corporate Equality Index released this week.

On the other end of the spectrum are AT&T, American Airlines, GameStop and Nokia, local companies with perfect scores.

“AT&T was the first major corporation to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation,” AT&T spokesman Charles Bassett said. “AT&T has also donated millions of dollars to support LGBT causes.”

HRC was bothered by Exxon’s refusal to add a nondiscrimination policy and noted its fierce opposition to a shareholder resolution to add the protection at its annual meeting held in Dallas in May.

Texas Instruments increased its score from 85 to 90. J.C. Penney kept its score of 95. Comerica Bank decreased from 95 to 90 this year. Southwest Airlines held steady at 90.

More coverage in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

Car hits monument but doesn’t cause damage

Legacy of Love monument on Oak Lawn Avenue at Cedar Springs Road

Maybe drivers just can’t see the “Legacy of Love” monument on the corner of Cedar Springs Road and Oak Lawn Ave. Maybe it needs to be a little bigger. Maybe it’s all those flashing lights warning drivers that pedestrians are crossing the street a couple of blocks away.

This morning another motorist crashed into the monument. The vehicle appeared to have ended up between the protective brick pillars and was gone by the time I got back with a camera.

Kudos to AT&T

While I was out I noticed that the new AT&T store next to the Verizon store is almost complete.

New AT&T store on Oak Lawn Ave.

Kudos for a building with an interesting design that nicely compliments Eatzi’s across the street and for having a sense of humor by placing the store directly next door to Verizon. Now T-Mobile needs to come in there and build something more fabulous with the billions it just got from AT&T when their merger failed.

—  David Taffet

“A Gathering — 30 Years of AIDS” tonight at the Winspear

Come together

The Dallas arts community is coming together for a spectacular One-Night-Only performance commemorating 30 Years of AIDS. An unprecedented collaboration between some of the finest arts organizations in Dallas, A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS will feature eleven Dallas cultural institutions coming together and sharing their talents to create a powerful evening of entertainment. With a cast of more than 200 singers, dancers and actors, A Gathering promises to be a soul-stirring performance, and a night to remember.

All the organizations involved are donating their time and talent for this unique performance. 100% of the proceeds will directly benefit four of Dallas’ leading AIDS service organizations. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to be a part of an extraordinary night of song, dance, hope and solidarity.

Participating organizations: AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and Turtle Creek Chorale

—AT&T Performing Arts Center

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m. $12–$100. ATTPAC.org/Gathering

—  Rich Lopez

DONATION

LEAGUE AT AT&T GIVES TO RCD | Representatives of Dallas-based AT&T present a check for $5,000 to Resource Center Dallas in support of the center’s programs and services. Pictured are, from left, John Cramer, national public affairs director for LEAGUE at AT&T; Angela Ross, AT&T external affairs director; Theresa Bates-McLemore, national LEAGUE president; Jennifer Hurn, client services manager for Resource Center Dallas; and Cece Cox, executive director and chief executive officer of Resource Center Dallas.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Equality Texas issues action alert with time running out on anti-bullying bill

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Time is running out on the anti-bullying bill that has become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s state legislative session. The Texas Senate must pass HB 1942 today if it is to become law this year, according to an action alert from Equality Texas this morning. The group is urging people to contact their senators immediately and urge them to bring the bill to the floor. For contact info and talking points, go here.

2. After six hours of debate, the Minnesota House voted 70-62 Saturday to place a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot. Four Republicans voted against the amendment, and one of them was State Rep. John Kriesel, a veteran who lost both of his legs in the Iraq war. Watch Kriesel’s speech on the House floor below.

3. Several major corporations, including Dallas-based AT&T, have issued statements saying they don’t support a Tennessee bill aimed at stripping LGBT protections in Nashville and banning future civil rights laws for gay and transgender people. The corporations were accused of supporting the bill, which passed last week, because they have representatives on the board of the Tennessee chamber of commerce, which backed the measure. But some have issued statements clarifying their positions in response to a campaign by AMERICAblog. Below is AT&T’s statement. To sign a petition calling on the other corporations to withdraw their support for the bill, go here.

“AT&T does not support any laws or efforts that are discriminatory. AT&T does support the principals of ensuring that state and local laws are consistent, which is the stated purpose of HB 600/SB 632. However, the bill has become implicated in efforts to erode the rights of the gay community, which we do not support. AT&T has a long history and longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and its policies address diversity in areas including race, creed, religion, sex, and particularly sexual orientation.”

—  John Wright

ExxonMobil protest on for Wednesday

Exxon protest in Tampa
Protesters gather outside a Mobil station in Tampa, Fla., on May 21.

Environmental and LGBT groups will gather Wednesday morning outside the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, during Irving-based ExxonMobil Corp.‘s annual shareholders meeting.

For the LGBT groups, the issue is inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the company’s nondiscrimination policy. Mobil included LGBT employees in its nondiscrimination policy and offered domestic partner benefits. But when the two companies merged in the late 1990s, those protections and benefits were rescinded.

—  David Taffet

Thanks, Bryan and Bill

AT&T

I was hesitant to share this, lest I be accused of navel-gazing, but above is a photo of a plaque and card I received this week from gay AT&T employee Bryan Dickenson of Garland, thanking me for reporting on his struggle to get FMLA leave from the company so he could care for his ailing partner of 30 years, Bill Sugg. Bryan is at home with Bill now, having been granted discretionary leave. Dallas-based AT&T enacted a new policy granting FMLA-equivalent leave to same-sex partners, regardless of whether their relationship is recognized by the state in which they live. However, because Dickenson is a member of union, he must wait for the new policy to be approved by his labor representatives. In the meantime, he’s been granted discretionary leave so he can care for Sugg, who’s undergoing physical therapy and remains on a feeding tube, but is gradually improving.

Of course, the real credit for this victory goes to Rob Wiley, Dickenson’s attorney, who had the foresight to contact us when his other efforts failed; to the countless advocates across the country who spoke up in response to my original story; to Dickenson and Sugg, who sacrificed their privacy to fight for equal benefits; and, yes, even to AT&T for responding swiftly and favorably.

Still, I felt compelled to post this here and say that in 10 years as a working journalist, I’ve never received anything quite like it from a source. And I can tell you that it means much more than any award from a press association. In a profession where you so frequently become the target of anger and blame (including for this story), it’s nice to know when you’ve helped make a difference in people’s lives.

Thanks, Bryan and Bill.

—  John Wright

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright