UPDATE: ATT reverses stance, offers gay employee leave to care for partner

Posted on 28 Jan 2010 at 7:14pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Company agrees to new policy to go into effect Feb. 1


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

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. has agreed to grant a leave of absence to gay employee Bryan Dickenson of Garland so he can care for longtime partner Bill Sugg, who recently suffered a debilitating stroke. 

AT&T’s decision came in the wake of an article in the Friday, Jan. 29 issue of Dallas Voice about the company’s refusal to grant Dickenson the same leave that a straight married employee would receive under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which doesn’t cover gays and lesbians.

Despite its billing as one of the "Best Places to Work" for LGBT people from the Human Rights Campaign, AT&T initially told Dallas Voice it doesn’t grant FMLA leave to same-sex partners in states where it isn’t required by law. But the company reversed its decision on Friday and reportedly has agreed to enact new policies ensuring that registered domestic partners receive FMLA-equivalent leave.

 "AT&T regrets that there has been confusion over the administration of family leave with respect to registered domestic partners," company spokesman Walt Sharp said in a statement Friday. "We have taken steps to ensure that benefits like FMLA are extended to employees with registered domestic partners for the purpose of caring for the partner, regardless of the state in which the employee resides. AT&T has a long history of inclusiveness and we embrace and celebrate diversity of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in our workforce.”

Gay Dallas attorney Rob Wiley, who represents Dickenson and Sugg, said Friday that the couple is in the process of obtaining a domestic partnership from the city of Seattle so Dickenson will qualify for FMLA leave.

Wiley said a vice president from AT&T contacted him late Friday and explained that the company planned to enact a policy granting same-sex partners FMLA leave effective today, Feb. 1.

However, the policy that takes effect today will apply only to non-union employees, Wiley said. Most of AT&T’s 300,000 employees worldwide, including Dickenson, are members of unions, and the company can’t unilaterally make changes to their contracts. Wiley said he expected the unions to agree to the policy changes, but the process could take a few weeks.

In the meantime, the company has agreed to grant Dickenson a discretionary leave of absence, Wiley said.

Contacted by phone Monday morning, Feb. 1, Dickenson said he was at work and hadn’t received notification from the company that he’s been granted discretionary leave. Sugg, who’s recovering from his September stroke at a medical facility in Richardson, is scheduled to return to their Garland home later this week.

Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s Workplace Project, said the survey sent to corporations for the organization’s annual rankings includes a question about whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex partners. Bloem said AT&T responded affirmatively to the question, which is why it received a score of 100 percent on the Corporate Equality Index last year.

 "The Human Rights Campaign has been in communication with AT&T  since learning that a gay employee was denied FMLA-leave," Bloem said in a statement Friday. "Today, AT&T has informed HRC that the employee will now receive this benefit. We will continue to monitor the situation to an equitable conclusion. HRC’s Workplace Project regularly investigates instances where actual benefits administration is different than what the company has indicated to HRC through our Corporate Equality Index. AT&T appears to have fixed this error, which is in-line with its long-standing reputation as a equitable workplace for LGBT employees."

EDITOR’S NOTE: The below comment thread is from last week’s story, which can be found at http://www.dallasvoice.com/artman/publish/article_12425.php.

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