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Human Rights Campaign Won't Budge On AT&T's Perfect Equality Score

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The Human Rights Campaign says it'll take a lot more than a petition to convince them that a company's Corporate Equality Index Score, which measures how a company treats lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, should be lowered.

But that's exactly what Matt Hileman, a San Antonio transgender man, wants to happen with AT&T's perfect score. It was last year when Hileman, who worked at AT&T, said he overheard two of his co-workers talking about transgender people in a threatening way.

Hileman eventually left after finding a "No Fags" sign on his office work chair after reporting the threatening conversation to his supervisors.

An AT&T spokesman has told TPR repeatedly that the company could not substantiate Hileman's claims. A recent mediation session between AT&T, Hileman and his attorney also did not resolve the dispute.

Hileman details the incident on the Change.org website, where he's asking petitioners to sign their name in hopes of presenting enough signatures so that the Human Rights Campaign will change AT&T's CEI score.

Fred Sainz is the Vice President of Communications for the HRC. Changing a score isn't as easy as presenting a petition. He said AT&T is actually a stand up company who has a long history of fair and equal treatment toward lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

"We see them as a model company, not just for their LGBT employees, but in terms of consistently going to bat for LGBT people, not just in the United States but across the world," Sainz told Texas Public Radio from the HRC headquarters in Washington, D.C. "We have in them a company that has always done the right thing by their employees and in terms of their public actions toward LGBT people."

Sainz cited several examples of AT&T's momentum in leading a movement of change across the world for LGBT issues.

One was when AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson spoke on behalf of gays serving in the Boy Scouts that eventually sparked a reversal in the organization's policies on the matter.

"When it came time to issuing a statement against Russia for their treatment of their LGBT citizens, AT&T was there," said Sainz of another example. "In them we have a proven ally of the LGBT community. It's just unfortunate that these allegations exist because they're not in conformance with the company that we have known as a solid partner to our community."

The Human Rights Campaign reported a record number of companies received perfect scores this year. 304 businesses spanning nearly every industry earned a top score of 100 percent, according to the report. AT&T has earned the top score since 2004, said Marty Richter, a spokesperson for AT&T.

Sainz says HRC takes allegations seriously. Reasonable people can understand that allegations are just that until they can be proven, said Sainz. So far, that hasn't happened in the battle between Hileman and AT&T.

"We're not a position to hold allegations against any company or any individual until they've been proven," Sainz said. "And then we have a responsibility to interact responsibly with that company if those allegations are proven to be correct in order to understand whether or not they would be willing to enter to remedial actions and things of that nature."

Hileman is seeking at least recognition by AT&T that its employees made him feel threatened at the workplace.

One of the issues Hileman and his attorney, Justin Nichols, takes with the local non-discrimination ordinance is that there's no way to truly enforce the newly-created protections for gender identity and sexual orientation approved by the city council last September.

Sainz said the HRC continues to fight for uniform employment discrimination laws across the country on both the state and federal level. He said the HRC is working closely with allies in the Texas legislature to pass a bill that would provide protections. According to Sainz, 28 states do not have any law to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation. 32 states, he said, do not cover gender identity. There is no statewide non-discrimination law in Texas.

In the meantime, complaints made through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, could gain ground. Sainz said that discrimination of gender identity, for example, is a form of sex discrimination.

The laws Sainz and the HRC are pushing for would apply to people who didn't get hired, were denied promotion, or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity status. None of these instances apply to Hileman's case.