DENVER (AP) _ AT&T says a white supremacist group hurt employee morale with its proposal to phase out affirmative action, even though the proposal fell far short of victory.

The resolution by the National Alliance - which contended that minorities were intellectually inferior to whites - drew 8.6 percent of shares voted at Wednesday's annual meeting of shareholders of American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

It might have won fewer votes if shareholders had realized the negative impact it had on the morale of the company's ''family of employees,'' said Hal Burlingame, AT&T's senior vice president for human resources.

An opposing resolution to increase affirmative action, proposed by Alex Tillman, a black manager at Bell Laboratories, won just 6 percent of the shares voted.

Some saw the voting as almost a referendum on affirmative action because AT&T is the most widely-held stock in the United States, with 2.7 million shareholders.

Tension was high in Denver's cavernous Currigan Exhibition Hall as Herbert Poinsett of Norcross, Ga., argued in favor of the proposal by the Arlington, Va.-based National Alliance.

More than a dozen shareholders spoke against the National Alliance proposal, including a Denver man, Harry Methner, who said he fought Nazi youth in gang wars on the streets of Berlin in 1935 when Nazis used similar arguments of genetic inferiority against Jews.

No one spoke in favor except Poinsett, who is the host of a white supremacist show, ''Race and Reason,'' on an Atlanta public access television channel.

Tillman, choked with emotion, said he feared that the wide circulation given to the National Alliance's ideas would poison the atmosphere at AT&T. ''These kind of comments hang in the air a long time,'' Tillman said.

Tillman's resolution said the shortage of minorities and women in high ranks could hurt AT&T in its dealings with cities with female or minority mayors and in dealings with foreign cultures.

Because both resolutions received more than 3 percent support, their sponsors are entitled to try putting them on the ballot again next year.

Robert E. Allen, AT&T's new chairman and chief executive, said the company would try to keep the National Alliance proposal off next year's ballot. He said the company tried and failed three times to have the Securities and Exchange Commission keep it off the ballot this year.

''We find the intent and the wording of this proposal highly objectionable,'' Allen said.

The Communication Workers of America, AT&T's biggest union, held a ''rally against racism'' outside the meeting.

In a statement from Washington, CWA President Morton Bahr said the union was pleased that the National Alliance resolution was ''so resoundingly defeated.''