AT&T Denies Gay Employee Sick Leave to Care for Ailing Partner


Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years. Sugg suffered a stroke in September and Dickenson, who has worked for AT&T for the past 12 years, is using vacation time so he can visit Sugg for one afternoon a week at a rehabilitation facility because AT&T refuses to give Dickenson the 12 weeks of sick leave that would be offered to heterosexual spouses in the same circumstances. Dickenson is concerned that when that time runs out he'll be fired for requesting additional time off to care for his longtime companion.

A rally in support of the couple is to take place in Dallas this Saturday in front of the AT&T retail store at 3311 Oak Lawn Ave.

Dallas Voice reports: "Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its 'Best Places to Work.'

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner."

Added Wiley: “At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion. I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”


  1. Steve says

    Even though it’s not their “policy” to do so, there’s a really quick way of buying a lot of good will and a lot of good press – if they (AT&T) act fast.

    Let’s see if AT&T figures it out….

  2. Sargon Bighorn says

    David, but At&T is doing what? Who is doing the wrong here? HRC or AT&T. You DO see who is “DOING” the wrong to this couple don’t you? You do understand who is denying visitation for spousal illness right? David you do see who is doing the harm right? David please say you see who is the bad guy here.

  3. wtf says

    gee whiz I wonder if at&t is a major contributor to hrc? that would certainly be cheaper than actually taking care of their gay employees.

  4. Chitown Kev says


    Now that is an interesting question since this happened at a place that made this particular HRC listing.

    Yes, it is AT&T that is the agent doing the harm but it does make you wonder the basis upon which HRC grants scores to these companies.

  5. says

    This makes me sick to my stomach.

    If they (AT&T) get away with this, this will set a precedent for all the other States that don’t recognize domestic partnership.

    Fortunately, the company I work for, which is based in the US recognizes domestic partnership everywhere. Not because it’s a question of law but because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO.

    (…and the CEO is a Republican!)

  6. Brad says

    I worked for AT&T in the early 90’s. They think employees are something to be S*!T upon. When my Dad died they refused to allow me to use additional vacation time to help my Mom settle her financial affairs. They had frozen our vacation time and we were not allowed to move it, even in an emergency. They gave me 3 days of bereavement leave and told me to get back to work. This does not surprise me in the least that AT&T would treat a gay couple this way. The message here is: DON’T DO BUSINESS WITH AT&T! Even if they show some compassion in this situation, it will only be a token gesture to get better press. They don’t give a rats A$$ for employees, especially GLTB employees.

  7. Rob says

    Wouldn’t the application of the FMLA policy to GLBT employees be a standard question for HRC to ask when rating these companies? You’d certainly think so. Otherwise, in this case, AT&T’s 100% rating in the treatment of GLBT employees (as well as their “Best Places to Work” ranking) is a big fat farce.

    Kinda reminds me of how we’re generally treated by the Democratic Party — lots of lip-service (sure, we’ll accept your donation) but no real legislative support when we need it.

  8. MT says

    This is a good chance to highlight just how spotty laws are around this country for this sort of thing. My husband and I covered every possible legal contingency when we got married, but our lawyers told us that even for all our preparations we would still be subject to the whim of whatever jurisdiction we would be in. Nothing is ironclad in America for gay couples.

    Don’t single out AT&T here (although it would be an excellent show of good faith if they stepped up), blame the lawmakers who refuse to give us the basic protections everyone else has.

  9. Sigh says

    That’s just mean spirited. Would it kill them to let a guy off for a few weeks? It’s not like he’s the only person that works there.They do know we’re the ones with all the iPhones, right?

  10. Derrick from Philly says

    So, if this couple were in New Jersey or Massachusetts there would be no question about AT&T granting them FMLA? Can local/regional branches of AT&T be responsible for injustices like this one?

  11. Bobby says

    I can not fuckin’ believe there are fuckin’ queers on here defending AT&T. They can make their own rules you idiots as can any company. They do not have to follow state laws when it comes to employee benefits.

    Stop being a bunch of Aunt Toms and support your people.

  12. Jeff says

    I wonder what the openly gay (and partnered) President of AT&T California thinks about this? Maybe he should call his colleague in Texas.

  13. E. says

    This is just vile. I was actually planning on getting an iPhone this weekend (and thus switching to AT&T), but now I won’t. And I intend to contact both AT&T and Apple to let them know why.

  14. David B. 2 says

    prying the iPhones out of the hands of gay men across America is a hard option (if there were to be a boycott over this) — shouldn’t someone (like HRC) go negotiate this away for everyone’s benefit? What is HRC doing anyway?

  15. Darren says

    I haven’t done business with AT&T in ages and don’t plan on doing any business with them any time soon.. iphone or not. They’re customer service is horrid, they up sell packages people really don’t need, raise rates with no notice… a whole lot of bait & switching IMO. This is just really icing on the cake. Sure AT&T will say “we’re just following the law” and they would be right about that, but that doesn’t preclude a company from doing a good deed.

  16. Brian Chicago says

    I found this comment on the actual news story and gave this officer a call. His secretary took my name and number and asked if I’d be available for someone to call me back:

    I am deeply disturbed by this story.

    I did some research, and found a direct phone number to the office of John J. Stephens, Senior Vice President and Controller for AT&T, Inc. He is the one who signs all AT&T financial reports to the SEC.

    The direct line to his office is:
    (214) 757-3220.

    A very nice lady answered the phone and I explained to her my upset over this issue and stated I’d cancel my AT&T service. She took down Mr. Dickenson’s name, looked up this news story online at Dallas Voice, and showed a lot of empathy. PLEASE BE COURTEOUS TO HER!

    I would encourage readers to call Mr. Stephen’s office and register your dissatisfaction with AT&T.

    Who knows… it just might make a difference!

  17. Biff says

    “Kinda reminds me of how we’re generally treated by the Democratic Party — lots of lip-service (sure, we’ll accept your donation) but no real legislative support when we need it.”

    No real legislative support except, in the past year alone, the passage of major hate-crime legislation and the repeal of the HIV travel ban? And now, real movement on repealing DADT? These anti-Dem talking points are getting a little stale.

  18. Sam says

    Thanks for the email AMO. I just sent a letter to AT & T and will post the info on Facebook. I am sickened by their bigotry. And as a longtime customer, will quickly switch carriers if this isn’t resolved.

  19. Trace says

    Do we have contact info for AT&T?? Given how many gay men have the iPhone, I say we have a voice!!

  20. DairyQueen says

    Not suprised by this at all. This is very typical when a company doesn’t want to pay or grant leaves or med benefits. They use the old “state and federal doesn’t reconize same-sex relationships” loophole. I had to deal with this even in Califorina when I wanted benefits for my partner. My old company was based out of WA where DP was not in place yet. They only offer legally married couples benefits. Now that I am legally married in CA they offer my husband benefits.
    The consumers need to stand up against this is we want AT&T to change their policy. This is why we need ENDA passed before DADT repeal.

  21. Kevin says

    This story is truly disheartening, and while I am not for one second standing up for AT&T, the real issue here is much larger. The issue stands at the federal level. Family and Medical Leave is an employee-friendly regulation that employers begrudgingly comply with. Due to the LGBT community’s ongoing treatment as different / other / second class, the statute does not include coverage for domestic partners / same sex marriages.

    As a result, AT&T is under no obligation to grant this man Family and Medical Leave, because he is not federally covered. However, where AT&T can fix this, is by expanding their FMLA coverage (thankfully, my employer has done this – we also provide FMLA leave for domestic partners, civil unions, etc.) Most employers don’t do this because they don’t want to expand on something they already hate they HAVE to provide to their employees.

    All of you should check your own employer’s policy on Family and Medical Leave. You might be surprised / disappointed.

  22. Chitown Kev says


    I would think that HRC asked and when I looked up the listing on HRCs website for AT&T FMLA-type leave was checked off.

    Also, if, as someone stated, that FMLA was solely a federal law then AT&T wouldn’t have to provide FMLA because of DOMA. I am assuming that in states with marriage equality and “everything but marriage” civil unions that there are state-related laws related to this but I may be mistaken (the Dallas Voice story does refer to state AND federal law).

    Regardless, AT&T CAN provide the benefits at their own discretion. And this is a 12 year employee for the company? (If the employee had only worked there, say, 6 months or a year, I could probably see AT&T doing this but 12 years?)

  23. DairyQueen says

    This news story needs to be passed around. I have only found it on the dallas voice website. They have a FB link, so post this article on your FB.

  24. Trace says

    Everyone should contact HRC and demand they say something now! Whether you support their political efforts (I most certainly dont) the equality index has been a great bellwether for our community and it is tarnished by AT&Ts actions..
    You can contact HRC here…

  25. says

    I think the best idea is to put a shareholder resolution. See if any of the pension organizations that may have a lot of their stock to join in. Maybe allow non-married personnel be able to put one significant other they could use for FMLA.

  26. says

    It’s important to note two things regarding AT&T:

    AT&T is caught between a rock and a hard place. It offers benefits to gays and their significant others that few companies in this country does. It treats gays and their significant others the same way it treats heterosexual couples.

    That’s why it has a 100 score from HRC.

    HOWEVER – and this is important – AT&T does not afford heterosexual couples benefits if they are not married or in a domestic partnership. And that equality is being extended to homosexual couples. All couples are being treated equally as AT&T’s policies are written.

    In this case, though, we’re seeing that this couple is not married or in a registered DP. Not because AT&T is refusing to recognize it, but because these two live in a state that does not offer it!

    As bad as this situation is, the worse AT&T can be accused of as a result is not bending their rules in recognition that some states are dead-wrong in their laws. And I’m not sure if that’s a huge sin on AT&T’s part. It would be akin to me asking AT&T to ignore a law I disagree with just because other states happen to agree with me. It truly is a legal slippery slope.

    But what’s AT&T to do? The simple solution is to exempt in this case and change their policy to allow employees to exercise their family leave allowances to anyone they view as “immediate family,” providing they specify to the company, well in advance, who qualifies as their “immediate family.”

    This really isn’t a hard issue to resolve, guys.

  27. says

    Please read this as was posted on the Dallas Voice Web site. I hope Andy also updates the blog with a prominent story. AT&T has long been a friend and supporter of the GLBT community and definitely earned their rating from HRC as opposed to other insinuations made in these comments.

    AT&T changes mind, grants FMLA leave to gay employee so he can care for his partner
    January 29th, 2010
    Well it appears as though you can take your iPhone out of the trash. Wait a second, you mean you hadn’t already thrown it away?

    Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, just confirmed in an e-mail to Dallas Voice that the company will grant family medical leave to gay employee Brian Dickenson so Dickenson can care for his partner Bill Sugg, who recently suffered a stroke. Here’s Sharp’s statement:

    “AT&T regrets that there has been confusion over the administration of family leave with respect to registered domestic partners. 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.”

    I also spoke with Rob Wiley, the attorney who represents Dickenson and Sugg. Wiley said it’s fantastic that AT&T has changed their mind, but added that neither he nor his client had been contacted by the company yet. WIley said he’ll call off a protest planned outside a Dallas AT&T store tomorrow if and when the company contacts him.

    “In mind it doesn’t really count until I get something in writing,” Wiley said. “My quote is, ‘That sounds very positive, but I haven’t heard anything from the company.’ This is kind of the problem we’ve had all along. AT&T says one thing to HRC and another thing to the employee, so I kind of have to hear it from them.”

  28. Robb says

    @Trace- Great suggestion! I just finished sending the HRC an email begging them to make a public statement. Everyone, please do the same- it only takes a minute. I didn’t think that there was anything that could come between me and my iPhone…. how sad. I have heard rumors that Apple will be opening up to additional carriers with the launch of the iPad- I certainly hope this carries over to the iPhone as well.

  29. Steve says

    TOMMYOC wrote: “HOWEVER – and this is important – AT&T does not afford heterosexual couples benefits if they are not married or in a domestic partnership.”

    The difference is that straight couples can get married if they want these benefits; we cannot.

  30. nick says

    There is a Big Bear Dance tonight in Dallas. I’m sure the entire list of invitees (over 900) will be notified very soon of the rally in front of the AT&T store in Oak Lawn.

  31. Michael says

    Just to be clear that if this is happening in Texas, we have no domestic partner laws. It’s actually in our constitution that such no institution similar to marriage can exist.

    FMLA is a federal law protecting employees who must be absent from work to care for themselves or a family member.

    Domestic partners are covered under the law, but only if the state recognizes the role. Texas does not so technically there is no DP eligible to be cared for under FMLA. Many national companies recognize a DP as it applies to health insurance, benefits, and FMLA.

    The company can change their policy since there is no actual law stating they have to deny, but since they choose to adhere to Texas’ antiquated view of the world this is what happens.

  32. says

    STEVE wrote: “The difference is that straight couples can get married if they want these benefits; we cannot.”

    As I mentioned in my original post, that’s not AT&T’s problem is it?

    And as I also mentioned, AT&T extends to unmarried but legally recognized couples. In effect, the policy IS the same to all recognized couples.

    The sticking point is recognition. And again, that’s not AT&T’s issue – it’s the state’s. AT&T is doing far above and beyond anything legally mandated toward them. And for that, you HAVE to show them appreciation for taking a leading role.

    My suggestion that AT&T can keep their own domestic registry stands. And, judging by how this issue is resolving itself, it looks like they might be headed down that road.

  33. Kurt says

    Dickenson must not be in the union. The AT&T contract with Communications Workers Union District 6 gives union members full domestic partner benefits including health insurance. If he is a union member, he should see his shop steward — they would put an end to this BS in a New York minute.

  34. kujhawker says

    HRC rating are based on policy and self reporting and not actual incidents.

    The threshold for getting HRC points isn’t as high as we think it is. If it looks good on paper it gets good marks. Never mind if the employees of the business or customers say it is diffferent.

  35. suede says

    Where’s the contact info for HRC!

    That scummy org is only good for hosting elite dinner parties.
    Fuckin shame on you HRC.

    and fuckin shame on AT&T, but atleast they’re not wolf-in-sheep’s clothing.

  36. SteveDenver says

    The reason I don’t own an iPhone — and EVERYTHING ELSE in my life is Apple — is because my sister’s best friend Laney was denied FMLA when her wife experienced a difficult delivery. Laney had to use up vacation time and sick time, but luckily had a supportive supervisor.


  37. Croix says

    I worked at AT&T Corporate for 8 years and never understood how they ranked so high with HRC or any other LGBT ranking. The only thing I could ever conclude was AT&T has enough money to pad the wallets of whatever group they wanted on its side. I saw people blackballed and given horrible jobs so they would quit if it came out they were gay. Basically it was the good old boys club and if you even hinted of being gay they would make your life miserable. I saw managers hire opposite sex dates for events so people wouldn’t question their sexuality. I could see it being different with the union employees but in the ranks of upper management you better keep you mouth shut and never mention your personal life.

  38. Jason says

    This doesn’t surprise me, I just left at&t after finding an inter-office memo targeting my termination because of “lack of motivation” even though I have a heart condition and I had an approved IDC work accomodation that they did not adhere to. Down with at&t!