Ashley was suspended with pay that Monday. She soon hired an attorney, Thomas Romeo of Fort Lauderdale, who advised her to file a claim under the Federal Worker's Compensation Act, which she did on October 20. Ashley was ordered to undergo mandatory psychiatric fitness-for-duty examinations in November and December 2000. She spent two days in Chicago for one of the examinations. On March 13, 2001, she was notified that she was not fit for duty, based largely upon her use of the prescription drug Xanax as a sleep aid. She was then scheduled for a physical examination on March 21. Just days after that exam, she was called into the Miramar headquarters for a meeting with Grey (the inspector in charge) and Koss, where she was informed that she would no longer receive pay while suspended. She began using the months of sick leave she'd accumulated over her career.
Ashley received notice on May 23, 2001, that her worker's comp claim was being processed, a full six months after it had been submitted to Koss. Two months later, on July 23, the inspection service determined that she was fit for service and placed her back on paid leave. Ashley was summoned to headquarters on August 31, and Koss told her she would be fired for failing to show up for the Saturday surveillance a year earlier. She was terminated on October 1.
Ashley's is not an isolated case of a black woman feeling harassed by the management of the Miramar headquarters. Sandra Fletcher transferred from that office to the Tampa branch in May 2001 and has an open EEOC complaint against certain management personnel. While the 44-year-old inspector declined to get into specifics of her own complaint, (records of open EEOC complaints are not available to the public without the complainant's permission) she confirms Ashley's contention that black women are regularly treated unfairly.
"I understand that as an investigator that if you have leads or tips or things that come before you, you're constantly put in a position where nothing you bring to the table is worthy of being investigated or followed up on," she says. "I can't speak for [Ashley] on the particulars of that. We never worked for the same individuals. However, the mindset was there that whatever you brought to the table was doubly or triply scrutinized.
"You have individuals who are in positions of authority who believe that they have absolute power and can do what they want to and not answer to anybody or anyone," she says. "If you disagreed or voiced your opinion or let them know that you were displeased with something, they were like: 'Who do you think you are?'"
In her own case, she believes that the management of the Miramar office interfered with her advancement in the inspection service by not properly acknowledging her work as an acting supervisor. "The reason that's important is that there's a listing that goes out all over the nation about who's acting as a supervisor," she explains. "It lets other managers see you in that position. By not affording me that opportunity, the other managers didn't know I had that experience." She viewed this as an intentional derailment of her career.
She discussed her situation with Grey, then the inspector in charge. She claims his response was a knee-jerk support of other managers, lacking any objectivity.
Of Ashley, she declares, "When I worked with Amy, I didn't have any concerns about her competency."
Gutierrez says Fletcher requested and was granted a transfer and that she was treated no differently from other inspectors.
Faye Dowdell, now 51 years old and living in St. Petersburg, was an inspector in Miramar until 1996, when she was terminated. A member of the U.S. Army Reserves, Dowdell had been in a vehicle accident while on reserve duty in New Mexico and injured her neck and back in 1994. Sitting for long periods of time aggravated the condition. Inspection managers, however, transferred her to a division where she was to spend most of her time sitting in a vehicle on surveillance.
"I was working every day," she recalls. "Then they sent me for a fitness-for-duty [physical exam], and the doctor said, 'You can go back to work.' I said that was great, and he seemed surprised I was happy about that." The doctor, to whom the postal service routinely referred employee illness or disability claims, went into his office for a while, then came back out and said he needed to do more tests, which took a few more hours. In the end, he concluded she was unfit for duty. She was shocked that the doctor had changed his mind so quickly. "I guess this doctor does whatever he's told to do," she asserts. She was terminated, she says, based on an inability to pass a physical performance test -- such as lifting so much weight or climbing a ladder -- similar to the one she took upon entering the service. The odd thing, she points out, is that no one ever asked her to perform such a test again. "They don't know whether I can [pass] or not," she says.