how to report disability discrimination properly
March 22, 2012 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Please help! I was mistreated dude to my disability t the USPS. I have a disability that isn't observed immediately when that people see me. I told this woman I needed slight assistance lifting and she was so rude and embarrassed me terribly. I left in tears. I wrote a letter to the Washington DC USPS *heads*.I go this crappy reply letter today with an EXCUSE for her behavior and that's it. I am mortified and want to cry. I feel like I need to take a stand. I don't know where to turn? The letter also stated she was working on "duty alone" and it isn't true. Cant they just watch the video? Please please tell me where to send my well written letter. I need to blow the roof off this. No one deserves to be treated like this.

I understand that under the union she cant help me but she completely dealt with the situation rudely and was inappropriate to me, and made me feel like peon. She had no humanity.
Hive mind I am devastated and my feelings are hurt. please tell me everywhere to send my letter and contact that will make a difference. I cannot even believe the form response I received today. Do I have
posted by femmme to Law & Government (40 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- jessamyn

Would this fall under consumer protection? Massachusetts Disability assoc? I'm not a member of any of that stuff so I'm hoping Hive mind knows!
posted by femmme at 7:53 PM on March 22, 2012

What do you want to happen?
posted by moxiedoll at 7:59 PM on March 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

Send the letter to the Representative for your Congressional District.

If you don't know your Representative, find out on this page by your Zip Code.

Send it by mail, with Return Receipt.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about writing to the Postmaster in Boston? This page has the contact information for James J. Holland.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 8:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The above page will also give the exact address to send it to. Include the exact date and time and location.

I am sorry this happened to you.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:06 PM on March 22, 2012

I'm sorry that someone made you feel this way.

You might want to contact the Office of Civil Liberties. There are regional offices listed there. You can also familiarize yourself with the American with Disabilities Act (aka the ADA) so that you can cite statute if you need to.

You may also want to see if there is a state or national agency that is an advocate for people with disabilities like yours. They will often have an outreach manager who might be able to help. A Google search should provide you with some information and contacts.
posted by absquatulate at 8:10 PM on March 22, 2012

Consumerist also loves stories like this, and can often help people get phone numbers higher up the chain of command than are normally available/known.
posted by Mchelly at 8:10 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry, just to clarify: a postal service worker was rude to you and you want to "blow the lid off this?" You are not entitled to any compensation because someone hurt your feelings. Unless you can prove that you were discriminated against on the basis of your disability or that the USPS worker violated the ADA (and it does not remotely sound like that occurred), you have zero recourse.

You need to:

1) Take a deep breath
2) Work on your entitlement issues
3) Have reasonable expectations for the behavior of employees that are impossible to fire

Remember, the Postal Service is not a company. It is a bureaucracy. You'll have about as much luck with them as you would filing a complaint about rudeness at the DMV.
posted by libertypie at 8:11 PM on March 22, 2012 [84 favorites]

I deal with the post office on a daily basis and, just like any other business, there are good employees and bad employees and unfortunately you ran into a bad one, or maybe a good one on a bad day. I had a guy just last week tell me that I make his job incredibly difficult and that he wished I would go to another postal facility every day, although I live, literally 500 yards from his and that's my "home post office." I ship a few hundred packages a week and do all of my postage at home, all I do is drop them off there. The Post Master there has forbid me from dropping the packages off at the back door, forcing me to cart my packages in through the front and stand inline, just to drop them off. I know this doesn't address your issue, I'm just saying they can be dicks. (On the other hand, my carrier is probably the nicest person I have ever met in any kind of job like that). And they are such a large bureaucratic "Bleak House" style mess that I doubt you are going to get any kind of response from them that satisfies you. I am sorry you were mistreated, like you said, people don't deserve to be, but it happens there a lot.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:16 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree that you need to be able to articulate what you want to happen. Do you want compensation? An apology? Someone fired? Do you want the story of what happened aired on the evening news? Once you clarify what it is you are looking for, perhaps you'll get more targeted suggestions about what to do next.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:16 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can certainly report this to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. You may also contact the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts.

Work on your entitlement issues

It is not "entitlement" to expect not to be berated by a public employee in a public facility for having a disability. I strongly object to your suggesting that it is.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:21 PM on March 22, 2012 [26 favorites]

@libertypie I cannot get too far into specific but my "entitlement" is nothing. But I do deserve more than this lady who humiliated me. Obviously if I post here there is more to the story that I cannot lay it all out, I'm trying to get some ideas like some awesome people already left. I believe it is easier to assume someone has a brain ( or at least 50%) than assume otherwise. I don't need to take a deep breath, I needed constructive suggestions. This stuff can't happen and I can help that change.
posted by femmme at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

@Sidhedevil I want to clarify: I saw no evidence in the original post to suggest that the poster was berated *for* having a disability, which may in fact be some sort of actionable violation. If that was the case, obviously, my response would be different.
posted by libertypie at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would suggest you contact the Postal Regulatory Commission's Consumer Advocate as well. They are much more likely to be helpful with your concerns than the Postmaster-General's office.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2012

Do you want to sue? Do you want a result? Do you want to change policy? Do you want to feel better? What kind of difference do you want to make? There's no way, none, that any action will ever guarantee that no USPS employee will ever be rude to a customer -- it's too large of an organization, if anything it's guaranteed that someone will be rude to someone at some other point.

I'm not clear on what actually happened here, either, which makes it hard to tell whether you have a consumer issue, a disability issue, and/or something else. If you think you might have a legal discrimination claim, try googling something like "Boston civil rights lawyers" and you should be able to find a bunch of plaintiffs' lawyers practicing in this area.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:25 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I saw no evidence in the original post to suggest that the poster was berated *for* having a disability

She asked for assistance because of her disability, and the postal worker berated her (rather than simply saying that she could not assist her). I don't quite see how the berating would have happened without the disability.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:25 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, for heaven's sake, why is everyone assuming that femmme wants money or other compensation or attention or anything else for her own personal gain? Maybe she just wants the Post Office to take the issue of its staff members not being assholes to people with disabilities seriously. How is that not a worthy goal?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:28 PM on March 22, 2012 [61 favorites]

to be berated by a public employee in a public facility for having a disability.

I did not get that from the post. I don't think it is unreasonable for us to ask for a little more detail in what happened in order to give a more constructive response. As its written, it sounds like an employee was rude and it has something to do with the weight of a box, that's all we know. Since the OP says that the "disability isn't observed immediately when that people see me" its hard to know that the employee was doing anything besides just being rude, i.e. not being discriminatory. Whether or not blatant discrimination took place is the key to knowing what advice to give here.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [21 favorites]

the postal worker berated her (rather than simply saying that she could not assist her)

Where are you seeing that OP says she was berated for a disability?
posted by holdkris99 at 8:30 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did she ask for assistance or did she tell the postal worker that she needed it? Her question implies the latter. "Can you help me lift this?" would easily garner a different response than "I will need you to lift this."
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:37 PM on March 22, 2012

c'mon people the title is "how to report disability discrimination properly," and it is clear femmme wants advice on how and where to report discrimination against folks with disabilities. already expressed is that she feels dismissed and disbelieved by the person already reported to, let's not repeat that here.

femmme, if this was Boston you could also try the Mayor's Commission for Persons with Disabilities. "The Commission facilitates full and equal participation in all aspects of life by persons with disabilities in the City of Boston. They strive to reduce architectural, procedural, attitudinal, and communication barriers that affect persons with disabilities. "
posted by freejinn at 8:44 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I never said I was berated. I went and told the woman I needed slight help that I am disabled. She later told me I didn't "look disabled" and should be able to take care of my business on my own. I never ever ask for help nor declare my disability so it made it even worse.

I do not want money, I do not want a lawsuit or some big thing and la~DI~da. I *can* speak up. I'm lucky I have the ability to do so and I need to. People like this small minded, rude, and mannerless older woman cannot become the majority. It is small minds like this that need to be corrected. Maybe I can't do it but I can stand up for myself at least.
@unmark is completely on point.
The question isn't my story specifically, it is Who do I need to tell?
posted by femmme at 8:46 PM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Having now paid better attention to your subject line, I see you want to make a report of the disability discrimination you experienced at the post office. Here is the process.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:50 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Folks, we don't call people names. Knock it off and answer the question asked or keep moving. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:51 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Whatever action you end up taking, take care how you characterize the postal worker who offended you. " older woman" sounds fairly condemning of her age and possibly her gender, neither of which are relevant to your complaint. Both age and gender are lightning rods in discrimination cases, and by putting them in the spotlight you risk the perception that you are retaliating at her level.

Your story will have most weight if you maintain the moral high ground by separating your anger at injustice from your anger at a specific individual.

posted by SakuraK at 8:59 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

Oops, that post doesn't fully make send without the angle brackets. I meant to say "*string of negative adjectives* older woman".
posted by SakuraK at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2012

I recently asked an organization to review their membership policies regarding part-time disabled students. It was hard for me to complain and took me awhile to come up with a letter that I was comfortable sending. I did not talk about any individual in my letter even though I felt the person I had dealt with was insensitive to my questions. I really viewed the problem as more of an organizational one, rather than a personality one. I asked them to treat the matter in a fair, sensitive and inclusive manner and to report back to me. Of course it was not a massive organization like you are dealing with, but people still open the mail and read it. I think that if you send a well thought out letter, clearly stating what happened and how you would like to see it handled better in the future you might be surprised by the response. They might really be clueless and need it pointed out it a way they can hear. Maybe not. They may completely ignore you, but then you have your paper trail if you want to take it further. In my case the response to my request was so positive I didn't know what to say beyond thanking them. Good luck. This stuff can be very hard to do.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:36 PM on March 22, 2012

This exact thing happens to me too. I don't look disabled but I can't do many things for myself. It makes me very angry when people dismiss me. I have often thought about taking action. But in the end I don't take action for various reasons I won't go into here. For me, I find that venting to my friends is enough to make me feel better.

Write the letter now but revise the language later. "Older women" is very charged wording. It's the kind of phrase I use to disparage those who drive me to tears due to my physical limitations. It's not language that belongs in a letter of complaint.

Because I've had so many of these reactions for so many years now, I've thought about joining an online support group specific to my condition. I reconsider once the moment of anger passes. If you feel there's a systemic problem that you want to fight for, definitely consider joining an online support group. It's a good starting point for activism. Then you don't have to explain to people why you're upset from the ground up.

Other people answered the "who" of your question. i just wanted to say that I have been in your shoes, and this is how I cope.
posted by vincele at 9:49 PM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think you're absolutely right to bring this to somebody's attention, but it might help you feel a little less aggrieved if you keep this in mind: a lot of Post Office employees deal with all manner of weird, bizarre, outrageous, and sometimes scary behavior throughout the course of their day.

Imagine if you dealt with some very rude, unstable members of the population every single day. Even those "normal" folk, many of them are constantly complaining about how inefficient/terrible/awful your organization is.

I personally don't know if I could survive the constant onslaught without the help of serious medication or therapy, and without descending into a very bitter and unhappy view of everyone who walks through the post office door, save for very few.

This person dealt with you rudely and unprofessionally, and I'm very sorry, you didn't deserve that. She should probably be taught that not everybody who comes walking into the post office is out to get her. But I wonder how much rude and crazy behavior she deals with daily herself; she sounds like she's burnt out.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:27 AM on March 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

its hard to know that the employee was doing anything besides just being rude, i.e. not being discriminatory

This shouldn't have happened-- if they were ignorant, that's their fault (or the Postal Service's fault, a good reason to report something).

Let the bureaucracy find their own special way of mucking this up, maybe. femmme, I'm sorry about what happened. I came to say that you might contact a local organization for support and ideas about what other people do in these situations.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:35 AM on March 23, 2012

Okay. I am not a postal worker, but much of my family is. When dealing with your local post office you always want to:

1. Complain to your area's Post Master. I would both call and mail your letter. I would state only what happened, when it happened, and what made it unacceptable.

2. If you are not happy with the Post Master's response to the situation, then I would contact your federal representative as the post office is a federal organization. Call and send your letter and add that you had contacted the Post Master and his/her response was less than adequate.

3. You really need to figure out what you want out of this --- it sounds like what you want is for this person to be better trained in handling someone with "invisible" disabilities. She may not have been able to lift the box for union rules or possibly her own disability or a bad back or whatever, but she could have offered a hand pull freight, etc. There were other solutions to this issue --- what would you have wanted? What do you want going forward? Clarify that for yourself and your letter.
posted by zizzle at 2:47 AM on March 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

[A couple of comments deleted. Please don't make this personal, and please just answer the question -- which is asking how to report this incident. Also, the OP has clarified that "I went and told the woman I needed slight help that I am disabled. She later told me I didn't "look disabled" and should be able to take care of my business on my own." So we can also skip answers that accuse the OP of expecting people to be mindreaders.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:10 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Start writing letters and calling people. Everyone. The post master. The state senator. The local newspaper. Everyone.
posted by Flood at 6:23 AM on March 23, 2012

[If there is something you don't want to point out publicly, you do this by MeMailing the OP directly. Seriously folks, stop. Answer the question asked or move on. ]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:06 PM on March 23, 2012

I am, among other things, a disability rights advocate and ADA technician. I work for a federally-funded (and authorized under RSA with a nod from the DOJ) non-profit who does a myriad of disability-rights work. I doubt seriously I do this in your state, although you are absolutely welcome to memail me.

First, well---first, let me say that there are some responses from people in this thread that are absolutely, unequivocally, out of line---and fuck those people. Ignore them.

Next, "The Post Office is a Bureaucracy..." In my small town, in the last year, we've taken on the USPS head-on, and won a few times over. Granted those were ADA Title II offenses and we threatened to involve the DOJ because the state HRC didn't seem to care, but whatever. We won, and are still winning.

Next, people always blabber about "The ADA" any time anyone talks about disability issues. Lemme assure you that most of these folks are pontificating on that which they do not know or understand. The ADA provides little to no protections against people being fuckfaces, and even when it DOES provide protections, they are CIVIL and there is no direct enforcement authority outside of the standard complaint process---which varies depending on your state. There are nuances of this which are difficult (e.g., there's no such thing as "Grandfathering.") For our purposes, from what you have said, there is no ADA-based recourse.

The best answer I've seen so far is to decide what you want to come of this. Clearly, we want Ms. I'm Having A Bad Day And I Like To Take It Out On Other People to have a spot of a reality check.

Anyway, there are three schools of thought and two more options:
1. Start at the bottom. Call and ask to speak to the local postmaster. Calmly explain that you're really upset and offended, and while you now understand why she can't help you (I so want to call bullshit on this, btw, but I need to look further) that you feel like she was hateful and you just want her to understand that she was hurtful and to maybe be nicer in the future. We'll call this the "Honey" method.

2. Start at the top. Screw your local delegates, they're about as useful in this context as a bag of wet socks. Start with your senators. Explain the nature of your disability, explain exactly what happened, explain that you got a useless letter from the post office, and that you feel discriminated against and would appreciate some support. Start at your state senators, consider your Human Rights Commission, and also possibly your state/regional postmasters. We'll call this the vinegar approach.

3. If you do 1 and 2 and you get no satisfactory result, you make life difficult. You contact your local agency (CIL or other, similar group) and request an ADA site survey. Parking lot to bathrooms, for full Title II compliance. I absolutely, absolutely, guarantee that there is *something* wrong. There's always something wrong. Normally we don't care unless it creates a problem. (Example: ours put the accessible space on the side of the parking lot with a 10 inch curb and no curb cut and no access aisle) Anyone can do the inspection, it's not exactly difficult, in fact the AccessBoard (who advises on changes to the ADA) provides a very nice checklist template for free. Once you have this information, you can submit it to the local Title II / ADA enforcement agency and await resolution. Because they're title II, they basically have no recourse. We'll call this the "Kill it With Fire" approach.

Option 4 (which I will admit is the MOST FUN):
Stack the deck. Organize a "roll-in." When a business or governmental office isn't compliant, we'll do things like take in 20 chair users at once, so nobody can do anything. Imagine the entire lobby of your capitol building full of wheelchairs just because they tried to argue about ramping the 5 steps into the alternate entrance. Groups like ADAPT love this stuff.

And option 5 (which is sadly the most effective):
is to call a disability rights advocate and let them be your standard-bearer. They'll call and make an appointment with the PM to speak about what happened with you, the way it made you feel, what an appropriate response would be, etc. Usually just because I have a business card with credentials and things like "ADA Technician" on it, things get done faster.

Feel free to memail me and I'll try to find you an advocate in your area. We're out there, and holy CRAP is it fun to get paid to pick fights. :)
posted by TomMelee at 2:53 PM on March 23, 2012 [52 favorites]

Anecdata: a coworker and I wrote a letter to our local postmaster (in a biggish city) and, (get this!) he CALLED us to talk about it and was very nice. I was shocked. It was like getting a call back from a DMV manager or something.

So... it might be worth a try is all.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with small_ruminent: the USPS is a bureaucracy and the best way to handle an issue with a particular employee is going to be at the local level. Good luck.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:54 PM on March 23, 2012

posted by Tarumba at 8:50 PM on March 23, 2012

Navelgazer has a point, but also keep in mind that it's perfectly ok to call attention to the problem right then and there. Never mind the postal worker, ask to speak to the supervisor on duty. You don't even have to interact with the worker to do that, you can ask any worker in the building. Or you can leave the building and call from outdoors.

The key thing is to present the problem calmly, while asking for the supervisors help in resolving the issue and making it clear you're prepared to go over the local supervisor's head too. People usually want to avoid involving their boss in local issues, especially when it'll look unfavorable to them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not certain where you are, but when I have called the 800 USPS line here in Chicago about a rude clerk, I got a call back - at home, at 8:30 in the evening by a supervisor who was really awesome.

I hope you can get this resolved.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:55 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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