“I'm not really someone who wears my sexuality on my sleeve, but through the normal course of the workday coworkers might ask me about marital status, family, those things,” says Keith Crabtree, 47. “Having been closeted for the first 32 years of my life, I have for the last several years finally started to answer those questions honestly
telling my coworkers that I'm gay, that I've been with my partner for 11 years.”
Crabtree claims that didn't fly with a manager at the San Antonio Credit Union branch near Military and Huebner, where he began working last October. In a petition he's circulating online and in a complaint he's filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Crabtree says the manager singled him out for being gay, and that the credit union ultimately fired him when he brought the complaint to SACU human resources.
A teller at the branch, Crabtree says his manager forbid him from using the restroom in the employee lounge because he was gay – she made him walk out to the lobby to use the customer restroom. She began filing “bogus write-ups,” he claims, citing him for infractions that never occurred. “It seemed like she was starting a paper trail so she could eventually just get rid of me.” Within weeks the manager barred him from using the employee entrance and made him walk through the front customer doors each time he came to work, he says. She put the breaks on his certification process and wouldn't respond to requests for time off, he says.
Then, on January 13 the manager pulled Crabtree into her office. “She told me I could not speak of anything gay in any form or fashion, that she didn't want to hear it at all.”
Says Crabtree, “I asked if it would be different if a straight person wanted to talk about their family and their relationship because everybody does it all the time, and she said, 'That's different.'” Crabtree says he broke down sobbing in the manager's office. “I told her, 'I'm a gay man. What do you want me to do?'
She shrugged her shoulders and kind of laughed.”
Speaking on a conference call with a rep from the company's HR department, Paige Ramsey-Palmer with SACU's corporate communications, confirmed Crabtree worked at the branch but told the Current, “We respectfully disagree with the allegations.
We feel they are inaccurate.” The company, she insisted, doesn't prohibit any worker from using employee restrooms and that none are barred from talking about family. She cited the company's strong non-discrimination policy, which *she says includes
a line prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Still, Crabtree insists he walked on eggshells for months after his manager pulled him into her office. “I was afraid I might slip and say something about my life, my partner.” When coworkers asked about his partner, Oscar, Crabtree says he'd shrug it off or ignore the question.
Last month he took the complaints to the company's HR department. Reps told him they'd conduct an investigation, and Crabtree says he was grilled by the legal department for nearly two hours. Weeks later, he called HR on his lunch break for an update. The company told him to punch out, go home, “and that I was no longer needed.” Days later he got a letter from SACU saying he was fired – in the letter, the company says Crabtree was terminated because he left his workstation without approval the day he says the company told him to punch out and leave.
Crabtree has since filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging sex discrimination, since he was the only male at the branch, and retaliation.
“We are unaware of any employees having been terminated for making a whistleblower complaint about discriminatory practices at SACU,” said Ramsey-Palmer. She said SACU has now sent Crabtree a cease and desist letter demanding he take down the online petition, insisting the “inaccurate statements” could harm the credit union's reputation and business.
*Update 4/6/12 -- Ramsey-Palmer with SACU communications sent the Current this explanation of the company's non-discrimination policy in an email late Thursday afternoon:
"SACU is an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate against any applicant or employee on the basis of the person’s race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, veteran status, or any other category protected by state or federal laws or local ordinances.”
Please note that we have included the wording “any other category protected by state or federal laws or local ordinances” because we have employees in several states, and laws and ordinances vary. In practice, SACU does not allow discrimination for sexual orientation, and sexual orientation is included with the language quoted above.
-- Michael Barajas, firstname.lastname@example.org