To Glassman, this is far more than a legal fight over lost pay and denied promotions. It is part of his larger, daily struggle to salvage some normalcy, dignity and recognition from a once-fulfilling life that is now painfully circumscribed.
“I wanted a real job. I wanted to be challenged and show what I could do,” he recounts, typing the words on his laptop in his dining room. “Everyone wanted me on paper, but when I went for the interview, they would change their minds. Nobody wants a cripple.” He glances up with a wry grin. “It would look bad for the office.”
In 1984, a bright young lawyer from Holyoke, Mass., joined the freshman ranks of America’s diplomatic corps. Then a bachelor in his 30s, Jeffrey Glassman longed for a more exciting career. With a degree in Soviet history, he dreamed of becoming an ambassador in Moscow or Eastern Europe.
He was eager to take on the State Department’s rigorous “up or out” system, in which Foreign Service officers had to “bid” competitively for every job and win a series of promotions within certain time frames or face forced retirement.
Athletic, quick-witted and facile with foreign languages, he was in every sense “worldwide available” — agency lingo meaning ready to serve in the most remote, harsh or dangerous outposts.
At first, he moved swiftly through a series of rewarding jobs: an administrative post at the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, then a consular position in Moscow, then back to Washington, where he won praise for his human rights work with Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union.
As a promising diplomat, he was sent to Columbia University for a master’s degree in international affairs. In 1992, after the Soviet Union collapsed, he was assigned to help set up the new U.S. Embassy in Minsk. “It was an enormous challenge with a lot of responsibility,” he recalled proudly. “I enjoyed it a lot.”
In 1996, another plum assignment opened up at the U.S. mission to the United Nations. Glassman lobbied successfully for the job and said he received high praise from the ambassador, Madeleine K. Albright, who would later become secretary of state. Albright declined to comment for this article.
Glassman’s personal life took a happy turn as well. A colleague introduced him to Elana, an outgoing classical singer. They soon fell in love and got married at New York’s City Hall.