It’s going on 11pm. I’ve been contemplating sleep since 8. Rather than catching some sweet sweet “Z”s however, my mind is fixated on a regret I have, and now I feel the need to write about it so I can get this off my chest.
I regret that I never reported one of my ex-bosses for discrimination.
Yes, I have faced blatant discrimination because of my poor health. I have talked about one instance of this before, but I don’t often discuss the continued pattern of discrimination that followed.
What I don’t talk about much is the discrimination I experienced from that ex-boss when I was facing the threat of an ever weakening body and trying to be strong through it all.
Not all of my bosses were like this one. In fact, overall I had such a positive experience working for Kroger that I often grieve the loss of that job. I miss my responsibilities there, and the rush I felt when I was able to help a customer. Hell, sometimes when I’m there just grocery shopping if I see a customer in need of assistance, I do what I can as a fellow customer and ex-associate to help them find what they need because I enjoy it.
When I applied for the job, I warned my interviewer that I have a very weak body and a complicated disorder that might eventually cause my health to fail, but I wanted to try to work. I’ll never forget when he smiled and told me he would be happy to give me a chance. I was so relieved, I asked if I could give him a hug. I’m such a dork.
I was a damn good employee when I first started working there and my health was at its peak. My first position was as a bagger, but it wasn’t long before my work ethic was recognized, and I was given a promotion. Just three weeks in, and they moved me over to the produce department, where I was given a great amount of freedom and independence, often working alone some nights, which I really enjoyed. I did such a good job there that rumors circulated that I was being considered for another promotion, this time as a sole manager of a department in the store.
My bosses started training me on some managerial duties within the produce department so I could help out if the managers there were unavailable. I was eager to learn, and eager to please my bosses.
I didn’t have any problems with any of them, and my co-workers were all very understanding when I started to show signs that my health was not as strong as it was when I first started. I was slipping, but I continued on despite that. Everyone I worked with seemed to get it. None of them made me feel guilty for needing to take an extra break or do tasks that required less exertion once in a while when symptoms were intense.
All was well, until we got a new store manager. We’ll call her Carrie. Rather than write out the tiring experience I had with her the first time in detail, I’m going to direct you here to read that part.
Long story short, when the rumors of my upcoming promotion became true and it was in the works, I came to see her on one of my days off, and confided in her that I was afraid that my declining health would hold the whole store back if I were made a manager of a department by myself.
I will never be able to get this memory out of my head. She looked me dead in the eyes, shifted a little in her chair, and said “Do you know what I think? I think you don’t want to do it.” Talk about an icy punch to the gut. Here I was taking time out of my free day to talk to her in person and explain that I have limits due to a medical condition that is draining my livelihood, and she said that. I am proud of myself for being able to keep my cool in front of her. I am proud of myself for standing my ground and defending myself in a respectful manner. I was strong and unwavering. I had to be.
I wish I could say that was the end of her ableist bullshit, but it was only the beginning.
It was around this time that I had my first adrenal crisis, and I wound up in the hospital. After I received the medical care I needed, I happily returned to work after a few weeks of hiatus recovering from the complications. My doctor imposed new restrictions on me, forbidding me from working in any department that had a refrigeration unit, and I was no longer allowed to lift anything 50lbs or higher. Both of those things were half the job responsibilities in the produce department. You can read about this in more detail here, but for the sake of keeping this article as brief as possible, I’m going to move on.
After I had my talk with Carrie, she treated me differently. She was snappy and short-tempered whereas before she graced me with her plastic smile and fake pride when I was what she considered a valuable employee. I was okay with the act before. I got it. She was there to do a job, not to make friends, but now she was becoming this source of toxicity in a work environment that I used to love.
They eventually had to move me out of the produce department because I was becoming more of a burden than an asset to my co-workers. This was by my suggestion. I knew I was holding them back though they had been accommodating for me without any complaints. I could tell I wasn’t being any help with my restrictions.
I became a wild card for the other departments. Some shifts, I would work stocking shelves in the medicine aisles, other days, it was grocery or simply working a cash register. One day, I came in to work and went up to the office to see what my task for the day would be. Carrie was there. I cringed internally. She seemed like a stereotypical Disney villain. It was something in her eyes. I could just tell how much she despised me.
She informed me that I would be working in the grocery department by myself that night. That alone was a difficult task. “Grocery” is a blanket term for “90% of all the non-refrigerated shelves in the store”. It would be difficult, but I could handle it. I would also be in charge, she added, of delivering the flats of new shipments from the loading docks to the produce department by myself when the truck arrives. This was damn near impossible for me to do by myself, and she had to know that.
She then went on to tell me that I would also be in charge of the dairy department. I informed her that I had never been trained in that department, and that my doctor had instructed me not to work in refrigerated units because it triggers my asthma, which was the diagnosed trigger of my adrenal crisis.
I explained that I had serious medical restrictions keeping me from working in that department. She waved a hand and said simply “you’ll figure it out.”
This is where the regret comes in. I was so shocked by her dismissive response that I was left speechless. I don’t even remember what I said to her in response, but it had to have been in concession. I felt like I had no choice but to accept her orders. She was my boss. I walked dejectedly out of her office with my proverbial tail between my legs.
What she neglected to make clear was that there was a milk sale going on that day. The refrigerator units’s shelves would have to be stocked frequently. I was dumbfounded. Why would she schedule me to work not just one department, but unload a truck for another and stock shelves in another that is a known trigger for my medical conditions?
This was blatant discrimination. Pure and simple. She did this on purpose. I was blind to this at the time. I thought she was just a shitty boss.
The store’s co-managers were there for a couple of hours more and they helped me stock the milk, but once their shifts were over, I would have to be on my own. They seemed just as helpfulness as I was dealing with Carrie. They seemed apologetic, at least.
I vented to my co-worker in the meat department about it, and she was pissed– even more than I was. She told me not to worry about the dairy department and promised she would take care of restocking the milk for me. I thanked her profusely for the help.
It wasn’t long before word spread about Carrie’s bullshit, and I had a group of other co-workers coming to my aid as well the whole night, checking on me and making sure I was okay. When the delivery truck arrived, they insisted on doing most of the work pulling the heavy shipments across the store so I didn’t have to risk over-exerting myself. I cried in private, I was so relieved. They made me feel like I mattered. At the end of the day, the departments all suffered a little, but nobody pinned that on me. Carrie was clearly at fault.
I wonder if someone talked to her for me, because after that night, Carrie seemed to avoid me. All I got from her were dirty looks and cold stares. I was grateful to not have to deal with her again. Granted, my health took a steep decline just a few weeks after that incident, and I had to quit my job just a couple of months later, conceding defeat when I could no longer stay on my feet at a cash register.
I’m happy to report that she didn’t last there much longer than I did. I’m not the only person who had problems with her. Carrie once asked another ex co-worker who had her own health issues “what’s wrong with you” when she had to take personal medical leave.
Looking back, I regret never reporting her to the union. I regret that I was so naive that I didn’t realize the extent of her blatant ableist discrimination against me and that other co-worker.
I’m glad I never have to see her smug face again, but I feel a deep pang of wanting justice for it, and grief knowing I waited too long.
All I can do now is share what happened, and implore others in similar situations to open your eyes and pay attention. Take note of discrimination, and do not be afraid to take action against it.
Nobody should ever have to put up with that. Period.