In 1977, Nestor Gonzalez, who for years had sorted mail on an assembly line at the main post office in Washington, began his crusade of grievances against the Postal Service for what he and others saw as degrading and discriminatory employment practices. He helped found a Committee to Humanize the Postal Service, and he filed scores of complaints against supervisors -- none of which was upheld.
Gonzalez, now 32 years old, became a "vigorous champion" of black and Hispanic employes. But his "relentless campaign" in their behalf ended in 1978 when he was fired from his job, U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell wrote yesterday. "Fueled by a passion to vindicate employe rights," Gesell said, Gonzalez had become angry and disruptive on his job.
Yesterday, Gesell turned down Gonzalez's contention that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his civil rights. But, in the same decision, Gesell warned the Postal Service that it will still have "serious personnel problems" unless some practices are changed.
The post office should not be consoled by the fact that Gonzalez lost his case, Gesell said, noting that "rigid" and "at times obstinately bureaucratic supervisory practices and overall style of personnel management" at the Post Office were disclosed during the trial of Gonzalez's case.
"The fact that (Gonzalez) and others have had to carry on a protracted, often bitter struggle to reform personnel practices at the main post office speaks for itself," Gesell said in a 16-page opinion.
Gesell said in the opinion that he knew of the difficulties involved in assuring efficient mail delivery.
But, he added, it was his "earnest hope that in the course of fulfilling its mission, the post office will take steps to promote a more humane work environment.'" The result, Gesell said would be to cut down on endless court cases over personnel problems there.
Although he ruled against Gonzalez, Gesell said he recognized that his efforts, "albeit excessive, were bottomed on a commitment to opposing discriminatory practices and defending the (legal) rights of his fellow employes."
Gonzalez, who lives in Landover, has been unemployed since he lost his Postal Service jobs, according to his lawyer, Gary H. Simpson. Simpson was appointed by the court to represent Gonzalez, who went alone to the federal court to fight for his job and money damages.
Gonzales began working for the post office in 1971 as a temporary distribution clerk at the main Washington post office. After two years at a small, surburban Maryland office, he returned to the main post office in 1973, where he worked side by side with mail sorters under tight supervisory constraints, Gesell said. The Washington post office employes about 7,000 men and women, Gesell said.
After the Committee to Humanize the Post Service was founded, Gonzalez frequently helped other employes file grievances with their Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, Gesell said. Gonzalez's disputes with his supervisors, Gesell wrote, focused on time allowed off the job to file those complaints.
Gesell noted that Gonzalez's administrative supervisor recognized Gonzalez's concern with EEO complaints and relaxed some rules on "release time" to Gonzalez's benefit. Gonzalez filed a steady stream of requests for release time, filed charges when requests were denied but often didn't follow up on his complaints, Gesell said. None of the reprisal charges was upheld, Gesell said.
After various warnings from supervisors, and some loud and boisterous confrontations, Gonzalez was fired, Gesell noted. His dismissal, Gesell said, was based on those repeated transgressions, Gesell ruled, and not discrimination or retaliation.
Gesell noted that at one point, Gonzalez's supervisor had counseled him to control his temper. Eventually, Gesell said, Gonzalez's "militant self-help posture" interfered with the post office's "business objectives" beyond toleration.