Project X

After a Southwestern Bell manager saved a woman's life, the phone company celebrated him as a hero. After he complained about what he alleges were racist billing practices, it fired him.

On their way home, Moore recalls, the officer stopped to tell some Utah tourists on the other side of the culvert--busy snapping photos of the rushing waters--to move from the danger. Says Moore: "I remember being furious that they had been standing there, taking pictures of me dying."

At home, she stripped off her soggy clothes, showered, and then "lost it," she says. "I called my parents and just started sobbing."

Moore's return to normal life was slowed by an irrational fear of water. "It took me until Christmas to take a regular shower and until February to get behind the wheel on a rainy day." Unable to make it to work through rain--feeling panicked and paralyzed--she would turn her car around, head back home, and call in sick.

Hamilton endured similar post-rescue frights. On the evening of the event, Hamilton had told his wife to drive the children home without him. He wanted to walk the few blocks by himself. On his way back, he recalls, he sat down in a field and cried for 90 minutes. "I couldn't stop," he says. It was only when he got home and took a shower that he realized that fire ants had covered his body with bites. A counselor would later tell him that such a lapse in physical awareness is common after emotional experiences, a result of soaring adrenaline levels.

A few weeks later, Hamilton learned of other men who had tried to save flooding victims, only to drown themselves. Losing sleep and suffering from nightmares, Hamilton decided he needed to find Moore and talk to her to establish some closure. He asked his Mesquite city councilwoman to help him find Elisa, whose last name he didn't know.

Hamilton and Moore compared notes about nightmares and stress. They began talking on the telephone once every few weeks. They didn't see each other again, however, until a Southwestern Bell public-relations man asked them to pose together for a photograph that appeared on December 22, 1994, in The Mesquite News, along with a story about Hamilton's nomination for the Vail award.

By then, Hamilton's problems at work had already begun to surface. As a supervisor in the revenue-management department, one of Dorsey's right-hand men, he was working for a demanding boss.

Hamilton says he was having increased conflicts with Dorsey, particularly over Project X. "I had expressed concerns about the way we were treating our customers, particularly when there were blatant violations of the PUC guidelines. I wanted to know who was going to take the fall."

One practice in particular, Hamilton says, made him nervous that the PUC might personally charge him with violating its regulations. When prospective customers from areas targeted under Project X applied for phone service, the revenue-management office workers who scrutinized the credit information often conducted their checks after a dial tone was already on, Hamilton says. As a result, they sometimes belatedly discovered that the customer had provided a faulty address or social-security number. Dorsey, Hamilton says, wanted his workers to order service terminated in such cases without 10 days' notice, as though it had never been started.

This clearly violated PUC rules, Hamilton contends. He says he went to Jan Moody, a supervisor in another department, the department responsible for initiating dial tones, to try to develop a procedure that lowered debt levels while staying within the PUC guidelines. Moody, now in another Southwestern Bell department, confirmed that she knew Hamilton but declined to say anything else.

Hamilton was not the only Southwestern Bell employee to raise questions about Project X with Dorsey. Tankersly says her black and Hispanic co-workers repeatedly objected to the patterns they detected--patterns that discriminated against residents of their own neighborhoods. "They would be living in those areas, and they would say it is not right," Tankersly says. A black 20-year Southwestern Bell employee still in the revenue-management office concurs, saying, "I understood Project X to be highly discriminatory." She says she complained to Dorsey, but that he didn't even acknowledge her objections.

Meanwhile, in October 1994 Hamilton had advised Dorsey that he was suffering emotional problems stemming from the rescue and was discussing the difficulties with his minister, Michael Armour at the Skillman Church of Christ, according to his complaint. On December 2, 1994, Hamilton claims, he asked Dorsey to refer him to the Employee Assistance Program for counseling. A program counselor that day recommended he begin seeing a licensed psychotherapist.

By then, Hamilton says, his uncharacteristically erratic temper had produced an incident that Dorsey would use as a pretext to fire him.

The incident occurred on November 30, 1994, between Hamilton and Darlene Starks. Hamilton says Starks, a peer in the revenue-management department with whom he had previously enjoyed a good relationship, had spent the better part of the workday Christmas shopping with several other women from the office. The women had approval to leave for an hour or two, he says, but had left for half the workday, much longer than Hamilton deemed appropriate. Their absence had left Hamilton and his staff unfairly overburdened, he says. When Starks finally returned that afternoon, he confronted her.

He says she responded by jabbing her finger in his chest. He concedes he used foul language that he now refuses to repeat. He also admits that in a moment of frustration he finally slapped Starks' jabbing finger to get it off his chest.

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