In the first complaint filed under the city’s new nondiscrimination ordinance, a San Antonio man alleges he was fired by AT&T because he’s transgender.
Attorney Justin P. Nichols filed the complaint Jan. 7 on behalf of Matthew Hileman, alleging Hileman was fired primarily due to his gender identity — but also possibly as a result of his sex and sexual orientation.
A spokesman for AT&T, known as a strong corporate ally of the LGBT community, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the complaint, Hileman began working at AT&T in May 2013 on behalf of Resource Global Professionals, an IT consulting firm. Hileman, who is married to a woman, didn’t disclose his transgender status to anyone at AT&T.
AT&T is a contractor for the city of San Antonio, meaning the company is required to comply with the ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination.
The complaint alleges that on or about Sept. 4, Hileman overheard a public conversation between two AT&T employees, Ropel Anderson and Gerry Bush, concerning the nondiscrimination ordinance, which the City Council would pass the following day.
“Anderson and Bush were specifically and personally overheard by Hileman stating their desire and willingness to commit acts of violence against transgendered persons, particularly if such a person was discovered in a restroom,” the complaint states. “Anderson and Bush’s comments included such violence and discriminatory content that Hileman feared for his safety and security.”
Hileman reported the incident to his supervisor, Hortencia Morales, who reported it to her manager, Ralph Elke. According to the complaint, Elke later disclosed to Bush that Hileman was transgender and had reported the incident.
Hileman filed a complaint with AT&T’s human resources department on Sept. 7 and was encouraged to sign a document saying he felt safe returning to work, which he did. Then, on Sept. 18, he found a piece of paper in his chair.
“The page contained a large ‘no’ sign with the word ‘fag’ written in it (meaning ‘no fag,’ akin to a no smoking sign),” the complaint states. “Anderson and Bush knew Hileman had made a complaint about their behavior and had been made aware he is transgendered, and was terrified by the note. Fearing for his safety, Hileman left AT&T’s premises, and reported the incident to his supervisors.”
AT&T’s HR department allegedly demanded that Resource Global Professionals obtain the note from Hileman, which he turned over in a zip lock bag, thinking it would be preserved as important evidence. Nichols said it’s unclear what happened to the note.
After expressing his discomfort working in the office with Anderson and Bush, Hileman was allowed to pack up his belongings with the understanding that he’d be reassigned, the complaint says. A few days later, Hileman received an email saying the remainder of his belongings would be shipped to him, and he never heard from AT&T or Resource Global Professionals again.
When Hileman applied for unemployment benefits in October, the claim went uncontested, indicating he was no longer employed.
“It’s apparent the termination of Hileman’s employment was due to discrimination based on his sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and/or was retaliated against for making a complaint based on said discrimination,” the complaint states.
The complaint acknowledges that AT&T is a strong corporate LGBT ally and calls on the city to bring the company into compliance with the nondiscrimination ordinance. It also makes clear Hileman isn’t giving up his right to file a lawsuit against the company.
“Hileman is primarily concerned with finding solutions,” the complaint states. “As you’re aware, the NDO does not provide an individual remedy for Hileman, and the City’s investigation and ultimate action relating to this complaint will be only those options allowed by the NDO and other ordinances. But, Hileman requests the city assist the parties in reconciling their differences and remain focused on ensuring others don’t encounter similar treatment in the future.”
Nichols, who is gay, filed the complaint in the form of a letter to Deputy City Attorney Veronica M. Zertuche. Nichols said he had difficulty getting the city to even accept the complaint, and there currently are no forms.
Nichols said it’s possible others have tried to file complaints since the ordinance passed but have given up, since it would be difficult for someone to navigate the process without an attorney.
The City Council passed the ordinance on Sept. 5 after months of heated debate, and it took effect immediately. The ordinance protects municipal employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in housing and public accommodations citywide. The ordinance does not prohibit anti-LGBT employment discrimination citywide, but it does cover city contractors.
Violations of the ordinance are a class-C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. However, Nichols said it’s still unclear what the penalties are under the contractor provision.
“We hope AT&T will address the substance of the complaint rather than avoid it with procedural technicalities,” Nichols said. “There is clearly lots of gray area. And we know the city isn’t going to ditch AT&T. But this is a good case, I think, and will test the effectiveness of the ordinance.”
Read the full complaint below.