Mail Chauvinists

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In general, however, Gutierrez dismisses as "totally, 100 percent untrue" any claim that management is unfriendly to black women. "All inspectors here are treated equally and justly, from the lowest person on the support-staff ranks all the way up to the inspector in charge," he says. "I don't know where they're coming from with that, quite frankly. Accusations are easy to make; they sometimes cover up other defects."

Ashley attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she graduated in 1976 with a major in public relations and a minor in criminal justice. Her sister had married and moved to Mount Vernon, a small town in upstate New York. In 1978, Ashley joined her sister and late that year began working as a "casual" clerk at the post office, a status that allowed her to work no more than 90 days in a row. She came back as a casual carrier, eventually getting a full-time job as a clerk in Yonkers, New York. "Yonkers had been an office that typically didn't hire blacks," she says. "There was one older black guy there. When I came in, I was one of about five blacks in a group of ten that came in." After five years there, she moved back to the Mount Vernon mail room as a supervisor.

In 1988, she spent 16 weeks in Potomac, Maryland, training for the Postal Inspection Service. Ashley recalls being a frank, outspoken trainee, a quality that apparently did not sit well with some. "One of the teachers pulled me aside and said, 'Amy, all the instructors get together and grade the students and rate them. If you can just make it through that, you can do it, because if they can get rid of you on your attitude, they'd get rid of you.'" She passed the training course and was appointed as an inspector in September 1988 at the massive postal complex adjacent to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. She worked in various divisions, including internal and external crimes and prevention. Her seven-year stint there was without incident, she says.

Hoping to get closer to relatives in Tallahassee, Ashley applied for and received a transfer to the Miramar office's external-crimes division in February 1996. Almost immediately, she clashed with her supervisor, Daniel D. Jones, who at one time had worked at the Manhattan office. Ashley claims she was told by another inspector that Jones, who is white, believed Ashley was one of two black female inspectors who had failed to acknowledge him when he met them in the office. Within months of Ashley's arrival in Florida, Jones had placed a letter of warning in Ashley's personnel file. Jones claimed she had failed to leave a contact telephone number while on vacation, during which one of her cases was coming before a grand jury. When she appealed the action to the inspector in charge, he upheld it. She then appealed the letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC office subsequently lost the file, Ashley says, but she had by then decided to let the matter drop because she had been reassigned to a different division that investigated fraudulent worker's-compensation claims.

Her new supervisor, Johnnie Harrison, a black man, held her to a high standard, she remembers, and she wasn't reluctant to call him on it. "I used to ask him, 'Why are you so tough on me?' He'd say, 'I gotta be tough on you because you're black, and you know that as a black person, they're going to expect more of you.' He told me that. We could sit down and talk about things: 'I know where you're coming from.' We'd argue, and I'd walk out and slam the door, and the next day, it's forgotten."

Her troubles began in earnest when Harrison transferred to Tampa in early 1999 and one of her team members, Richard Koss, moved into the supervisory position. She had worked with Koss, who is white, a couple of times before his promotion, and they didn't have any problems, she recalls. "When we were out there working, he told me he dated black women and that he was dating a black woman." Ashley says she did not respond.

Ashley's relationship with Koss, however, soured soon after he became supervisor. She claims he accused her of divisiveness because she didn't spend enough time with the team socializing in his office. He might have believed she was undermining his authority, she says. Regardless of the reason, tension grew between the two, which would lead to a showdown over a high-profile investigation of two postal officials.

One of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's most prominent cases in the late 19th Century was that of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whom inspectors pursued after the pair heisted mail trains. A century later, Wall Streeters Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken were found guilty of mail fraud and securities violations as the result of work done by inspectors. The service helped bring Leona Helmsley to trial in 1989 for using the U.S. mail to defraud the State of New York out of taxes she owed. Perhaps the service's most famous case was that of Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, who for years sent bombs through the mail, killing three people and injuring 23 more.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson