Don't Call Us: Dallas Jury Rules Against AT&T in Discrimination Case

Lily Tomlin, way back when there was only one phone company, summed up its attitude toward customer service best: “We don't care. We don't have to. [snort] We’re the phone company!”

Well, AT&T may have some competition these days -- sorta, kinda -- but Dallas lawyer Stephen W. Drinnon claims the old attitude still reigns when it comes to dealing with workplace discrimination. Drinnon represented Lakecious Edwards, an employee at the AT&T service center in Arlington who this week won $411,339 jury verdict in Dallas County against the telecom giant. (We tried to get a response from Dallas-based AT&T about the case. No luck.)

Edwards claimed that AT&T repeatedly denied her a promotion on account of race -- apparently she talked too “fast” was her supervisor’s explanation -- created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her for complaining.

Drinnon tells Unfair Park that AT&T has a unique way of dealing with discrimination complaints: Refer the complaints to a third-party vendor via an 800 number, then essentially ignore them. Don’t always tell the person accused of discrimination about the complaint. Don’t share the outcome of a company investigation with the complainant. Tell the alleged victim to keep mum. Let enough time pass -- 180 days from the date of the discriminatory act in state court, 300 days in federal, he says -- and guess what? It’s too late to file a lawsuit, thanks to corporation-friendly laws that set a short time frame for filing. (The law also strictly limits the amount of damages a victim of discrimination can receive.)

Brilliant. Cynical but brilliant.

Drinnon says the AT&T supervisor charged with “monitoring” the supervisor in Edwards’ case wasn’t even clear on what the word “monitor" meant. The company's anti-discrimination system was set up, he claims, to give the appearance that AT&T was actively combating workplace discrimination, when it was essentially a sham.

Ironically, you’d think an AT&T employee would know better than to expect service from calling an 800 number.

Edwards original complaint can be found here. A press release about the verdict is below. --Patrick Williams

Dallas Jury: AT&T Created Hostile Environment for Minority Employee at Arlington Call Center

The Drinnon Law Firm announces $411,339.00 jury verdict following nine internal racial discrimination complaints

DALLAS - A Dallas County jury awarded $411,339.00 to an AT&T call center employee this week after finding that race was a motivating factor in the company's repeated failure to promote her. Additionally, the jury agreed that AT&T had created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her when she complained.

The lawsuit filed by AT&T sales representative Lakecious Edwards is one of nine complaints by employees at an AT&T office located 20 miles west of Dallas. Attorney Stephen Drinnon of The Drinnon Law Firm represents the employees and says one lawsuit stemming from the complaints has settled, and one remains active.

According to court testimony, Ms. Edwards, an eight-year veteran AT&T employee, was passed over on three separate occasions for promotions that went to Caucasian employees, two of whom were under disciplinary review. When another job opening was posted, the manager intentionally told other AT&T managers that Ms. Edwards wasn't interested in the job. The unfair treatment grew worse after she filed an internal complaint about her treatment.

Mr. Drinnon presented evidence showing that AT&T encouraged employees to quietly file complaints internally rather than to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Center but performed little, if any, investigation. In Ms. Edwards' case, the manager named in the complaint was not interviewed by investigators or reprimanded for her actions. AT&T ultimately ruled "no finding of discrimination" for all 9 complaints and closed them without notifying the employees.

"Ms. Edwards and her coworkers suffered pervasive discrimination and did everything they could to work within AT&T's system," Mr. Drinnon says. "Because of the company's refusal to take these complaints seriously, these loyal employees were forced to seek justice through the courts."

Mr. Drinnon also presented evidence that despite AT&T's publicity campaigns touting its commitment to a diverse workplace, employees and managers received little or no training in workplace diversity issues. Evidence also showed that the same procedures to respond to internal complaints of racial discrimination that failed in Arlington are followed throughout the AT&T organization.

"We're pleased that independent jurors saw this company's reprehensible conduct for what it was," Mr. Drinnon says. "We hope that this verdict sends a message to AT&T that these complaints need to be taken seriously, and their diversity commitment needs to be more than window dressing."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky