The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, June 17, 2003  

The Stefans Return to Dayton Empty-Handed

AT&T Corp. last week held its annual shareholders meeting in Savannah, Ga. Among the usual matters presented for a vote -- electing directors, ratifying the audit committee’s selection of PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P. as independent auditors -- were four proposals submitted by shareholders, including this one, listed as Item 4 on the proxy card attached to the annual proxy statement, and submitted by Steve J. and Marcia A. Stefan, 704 Grafton Avenue, Dayton, Ohio, 45406:

Whereas, some people are inclined to engage in sexual activity with members of the opposite sex, some people are inclined to engage in sexual activity with members of their own sex, some people are inclined to engage in sexual activity with members of both sexes.

Whereas, the terms “sexual orientation” or “sexual preference” are broad terms that could encompass the sexual interests described above.

Whereas, certain practices are legally proscribed in every state in the United States.

Resolved, The shareholders request the Board of Directors to amend AT&T’s Equal Opportunity Statement and eliminate the words “sexual preference or orientation.”

Supporting Statement: The sexual interest and activities of our employees are a private matter, not a corporate concern, Unless these interests and activities violate the law, they should remain private.

The board of directors of AT&T urged shareholders to reject the proposal:

Your directors recommend a vote against the above proposal. At AT&T’s 2002 Annual Meeting of Shareowners, this proposal was defeated by more than 88% of the votes cast. The Board believes that adoption of this proposal would inappropriately signal a departure from historic policy, wrongly suggest tolerance for discrimination based on sexual orientation, negatively impact our workplace environment, and would not be in the best interests of AT&T.

AT&T has a long-standing policy of non-discrimination in the workplace and abides by applicable federal, state, and local laws. Our corporate policy is, in part, “to prohibit unlawful discrimination or harassment because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, sex, marital status, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, or because of one’s status as a special disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era, in any employment decision or in the administration of any personnel policy.” The primary purpose of this policy is to foster an inclusive workplace which does not subject any of our employees to abuse, harassment, or discrimination.

We strive to foster an atmosphere of respect for responsible opinions and views of all kinds, crossing the full spectrum of beliefs and issues. We also strive to create an environment that enhances creativity and innovation where our employees work well together to better serve our customers. This helps us to attract talented individuals to become employees and to contribute fully to meeting our business objectives. We believe this is in the best interests of AT&T, our employees, our customers, and our shareowners. Therefore, your directors again recommend that shareowners vote AGAINST this proposal. [Emphases in original.]

How did the measure fare?

According to AT&T’s preliminary count of shareholder votes, Item 4 received the votes of holders of 16.6 million shares.

Sound impressive?

Hardly. Remember, this is AT&T we’re talking about, and despite the hard times and shrinking capitalization the telecommunications giant has experienced in recent decades, it’s still a very large company.

Votes against Item 4 came from holders of 481.3 million shares. That puts the preliminary tally at 97 percent against Item 4 compared with a mere 3 percent in favor. That’s a substantially wider margin against employment discrimination than the comparable vote last year (88 percent to 12 percent).

As the Financial Times has observed, the lunatics are in control of the asylum in Washington, but in corporate America, more rational minds, more genuinely market-oriented minds, are increasingly, though imperfectly, minding the store.

Makes you wonder why the Republican Party continues to kneel before the demented agenda of the radical right on this and related issues. As far as I’m concerned, I hope the party continues to do so. They’ve signed on to a losing cause.

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