By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
About five years ago, a couple of male postal clerks at the downtown post office at 20th and Curtis streets started coming up with nicknames for some of their co-workers, who are mostly female. "Roly-poly ass," "big black cow," "horse teeth" and "black butt" are a few examples.
"Wackadoo," "Mack truck" and "lady with a big bootie" are a few more.
The female co-workers got fed up. So three years ago they turned to the authorities. First they complained to their supervisors. The managers recommended the women call a police detective, who wrote reports and filed charges that went to the district attorney, who took them to court.
Which is where this story begins. No one is sure when it will end.
Mullins began working for the post office in 1971; Lewis started a few years later. Mullins was fired on October 13, 1995; Lewis was canned on October 28, 1995. Both soon appealed their terminations. If measured in the subsequent time spent tying up various courts, lawyers, judges and postal supervisors, that was a very long time ago.
Before they were fired, both Garland Lewis and Billy Mullins were written up by their supervisors and the police for numerous incidents in 1994 and 1995. Once, a postal clerk named Trina Bell alerted the cops when Lewis "called me a roly-poly ass." Mullins, she also complained, yelled across the work floor that Bell had "big teeth, like a horse."
Another episode involved Lewis and a male co-worker. A later legal finding of the event recounts the confrontation: The co-worker "directed motions like a crying baby toward Lewis. The latter flipped him off...[Later] Lewis waited outside, called him a wimp, and said he was going to kick in his teeth. They exchanged inquiries as to why Mexicans and blacks were cowards."
A clerk named Carol Ware also called the police frequently to complain about Mullins and Lewis. She protested that, while in her hearing range, Lewis had declared, "There's a big black cow in here. Moo, moo, smell the stockyards."
As for Mullins, Ware noted that he sang lewd songs around her, which included non-work-related lyrics such as "Let's talk about sex" and "I want to lick you all over your body." She also stated that Mullins had a habit of catching her attention and then fondling himself "on a daily basis, every day, all day long, as long as he could catch my eye."
Another crucial encounter occurred on May 16, 1994. On that day, Mullins and his boss, Reggie Chapman, met in an office to discuss Mullins's work performance. They exchanged words, but after that, their versions of the event diverge. Mullins said Chapman slapped him in the face, knocking off his glasses.
Chapman responded that Mullins faked it--that he threw his own glasses on the floor and began screaming, "Why did you hit me, Reggie?" so as to make it appear as though he had been assaulted. Ware and Bell stepped forward as eyewitnesses and backed up Chapman's story. So the cops charged Mullins with filing a false police report.
As the police reports filed against them piled up and their internal Postal Service dossiers thickened, Mullins and Lewis denied being troublemakers. For instance, what Ware interpreted as his lewdly handling his genitals, Mullins explained, was really his attending to his jock itch. He supplied a doctor's note and a prescription as proof.
Lewis, too, complained that he was getting as much abuse as he was giving. Both men declared that they were being targeted by their co-workers as part of a conspiracy to get them fired.
To no avail. Two years ago this past May, both men were placed on off-duty status for unacceptable conduct. A couple of months later, in July 1995, their supervisor recommended that they be permanently canned. In October of that year, they were.
That's when the legal bickering between the men and women of the 20th Street Post Office really heated up.
Even though Mullins and Lewis had been fired, they still had plenty of occasion to run into Carol Ware, Trina Bell and other former co-workers from the 20th Street postal station. Most of the encounters were in court.
Some of the harassment complaints the women had filed against the men for the name-calling, for example, continued to ricochet through the justice system (none of the charges ever stuck, and neither man was ever convicted of anything). In late 1995, Lewis and Mullins filed a civil lawsuit against the women and the U. S. Postal Service in U.S. District Court. And with the postal union on their side, they appealed their firings.
Like a severed starfish limb that quickly grows into a new creature, each meeting between the postal men and women seemed to develop into a whole other living, breathing legal action.
One of those occasions happened last autumn. Ware, Lewis and their lawyers had gathered in Lewis's lawyer's office for a deposition. Tension filled the air. Ware didn't say anything at the time. But two and a half months later she reconsidered.