A woman in Ohio who worked at AT&T for more than 30 years has filed a lawsuit against the telecommunications company, accusing it of discriminatory retaliation after she says she was fired for reporting a “racist, misogynistic” threat she received that called her the N-word.
Stacey Fowler, 53, launched a legal battle on Sept. 28 with AT&T, its Midwest division, and AT&T subsidiary Ohio Bell Telephone Company for their “abhorrent and shocking conduct,” the complaint says.
“AT&T did not treat the vicious and vile, racist and misogynistic Death Threat that Fowler reported with any urgency or gravity,” the lawsuit alleges.
According to the suit, Fowler, a Black woman and director in Columbus, said she walked into her office in March and found a note under the door that read: “YOU STUPID N----- BITCH[.] IF WE CAN’T TAKE YOU DOWN[,] WILL TAKE YOU OUT.”
Along with the hateful note, Fowler’s business card was stapled to it with her job title scratched out, according to the lawsuit.
“Fowler immediately reported the racist, misogynistic threat. Rather than hold a single person responsible for this cowardly racist act, AT&T protected the racists, fulfilled their wishes, and fired Fowler instead—mere weeks after Fowler was threatened,” the lawsuit says. “Then, AT&T replaced Fowler with a white male. In doing so, AT&T made clear that it would go above and beyond to protect white males at the expense of minorities and females in general, and Fowler, in particular.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast Monday, Fowler said that she was used to AT&T operating like a “good ol’ boys’ club,” explaining that it took her 17 years to be promoted to a director while others excelled more quickly and maybe with not the same amount of experience or schooling.
“You see a lot of the women are doing more of the clerical functions, even when you're the same level as other managers,” Fowler said.
According to the lawsuit, Fowler worked in the construction and engineering department, which was “dominated” by white men.
“AT&T talks a big game because it looks good on paper,” she said. “They have all of this [diversity, equity, and inclusion] training that's mandatory. …But [beyond] that, that's not present practice. I'm telling you right now. That's not what is put in practice. It’s not; it's just the front.”
In February, Fowler, who was the most senior person in the Ohio office at the time, told The Daily Beast that AT&T needed to downsize and do a round of layoffs. She said she told the managers who reported to her in Ohio that they had to let some of the people go from their teams, explaining that it was better if the managers did it instead of her because they actually knew the work ethic of their employees.
“When the folks that needed to be let go were notified, they were notified by their direct managers who were the white men that reported to me,” Fowler said. “It happened all on the same day.”
However, she claimed in her interview with The Daily Beast that some of the white people who were laid off took issue with her for their job losses—though she said Black people were laid off too, and the managers who actually chose to let the employees go stoked the fire and suggested they file a complaint alleging reverse discrimination.
Fowler told The Daily Beast that a week after the terminations were made, she got a call from the equal employment office within AT&T, which she claimed was routine during layoffs. Then, she said nothing came of the complaint after about three weeks.
In March, Fowler had a full day of meetings with the same managers who led the layoffs on their teams—who traveled in from other offices across the state, the lawsuit states. That’s when she found the vile note under her office door.
Fowler alleged to The Daily Beast that because the investigation following the layoffs was lagging, employees took matters “into their own hands” in an attempt to scare her to quit.
“The day that I got the note, all of the managers that reported directly to me who were kind of stirring the pot on the whole thing were in that building where I was,” she said.
Fowler, who said she felt physically threatened after reading the note, was “light-headed, emotional, and frightened,” according to the lawsuit.
She added during the interview that her family was on “high alert.”
Fowler accused AT&T of not being concerned about her safety, saying the company advised her to work from home for a few days and file a police report. She said she felt like the ordeal was not taken seriously.
“They didn't care about my psychological well-being, any of that,” Fowler told The Daily Beast. “I just felt like nobody really took me serious[ly]. Nobody really cared.”
She explained that she got a call from her boss one day in April while she continued to wait for an outcome of the investigation into the note. However, instead of any findings on the origin of the racist letter, Fowler was fired for violating a business code of conduct related to the complaint employees filed against her in February.
“AT&T wasted no time in pursuing a white man’s complaint that he had been terminated based on his race,” the lawsuit states, “[though] Area Managers were the final decision makers, and [Fowler] made clear that no discrimination took place.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast Tuesday, an AT&T spokesperson wrote that the company was “disgusted by the note allegedly left in Ms. Fowler’s office.”
“We condemn whoever wrote it. We promptly conducted a thorough investigation but, unfortunately, could not determine who that was,” the statement read.
However, AT&T said Fowler’s accusation that the company fired her in retaliation was false.
“Ms. Fowler was terminated after a thorough investigation revealed she violated company policy,” the statement read. “We do not discriminate nor do we tolerate discrimination of any kind, including based on race or any other factor. Any suggestion that we do is just wrong and we intend to fight this lawsuit.”
AT&T did not specify how Fowler violated company policy.
At this point, Fowler says she wants the company to “acknowledge that they were wrong” and to be compensated for her losses. She’s also trying to move past the three decades she put into AT&T.
“What I don’t want to go into is a company that works for AT&T,” Fowler told The Daily Beast. “AT&T contracts out a lot of their work. If you’re working for a contractor, you’re ultimately going to cross paths with people that work there. I’m not doing that.”