Postal service employees charges of anti-Semitism lead to inquiry

The U.S. Postal Service's Equal Employment Opportunity Office in California is investigating claims of anti-Semitism at its Petaluma-based North Bay processing and distribution center.

But George Kaufman, a postal employee who filed the complaint, wants to know why the postal service took so long to act.

Kaufman, 42, has been working at the North Bay plant for eight years, and he says the past two have been tainted by anti-Semitism.

Kaufman contends he's seen swastikas drawn on fruit in the lunchroom. He recalls seeing notes on scraps of paper in the office in which a supervisor was referred to as Dr. Josef Mengele — the infamous doctor known for his cruel experimentation on Jews during the Holocaust — as well as work orders with the words "don't touch this you f—ing kike" scrawled on them.

He's discovered a swastika drawn on a bandage box kept in a first aid kit and showed it to his supervisor, who led a discussion about ethnic graffiti and violence the following week.

Finally, one workday in January, Kaufman stumbled on photographs of a cake decorated with a swastika. He brought the photographs to his supervisor, and a formal investigation began.

Kaufman also reported the incident to the Pacific region office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Abbie Wolf, associate director of the ADL's regional office in San Francisco, says she's waiting for results of the postal service investigation before taking action.

"We'll have to see the decision and the punishment to decide what course of action to take," she says.

Kaufman chose not to report the incidents to the Petaluma police department because he was looking for internal change rather than prosecution.

His first verbal complaints date back to 1994. "Management always said they didn't know who was doing this. I think it's a case of `don't worry about it and it will go away,'" he says.

The postal service denies it ignored Kaufman's report of anti-Semitism.

"We don't sit on this stuff. We take all complaints of anti-Semitic behavior [and unfair treatment of other minority groups] seriously," says Dan DeMiglio, manager of corporate relations for the Postal Service office in California.

According to DeMiglio, two investigations have been launched, the first in January when Kaufman filed a formal written complaint regarding the swastika cake. The second investigation, conducted by the EEO office of the U.S. Postal Service, began shortly after. The EEO has the power to question employees under oath.

DeMiglio says both investigations should be completed shortly. He could not comment on specifics of the case but says, "I really need to stress that yes, this has taken some time, but a thorough and fair investigation does take time."

The Postal Service, he adds, was "the first major employer to have full, equal and fair employment for everyone as a policy. We have ongoing sensitivity training. We celebrate diversity.

"We have 800,000 people working for us. We truly are a microcosm of America. When you're that large you have to embrace the benefits of that diversity. It's been a business strategy of ours for years."

Kaufman, however, says his work environment has worsened since the investigation began.

During that time, he has taken a month off from work due to stress. Upon his return he learned a swastika was carved in the men's restroom. It has been removed, Kaufman says, but talk of it "is all around the building."

Kaufman believes the EEO investigators are sympathetic to his claims. However, the postal service "is going to put the best face on this it can," he says.

Furthermore, Kaufman maintains that "management is trying to crucify me now. They're trying to turn it around and pin the blame on me" for some other problems at the post office.

Meanwhile, DeMiglio says disciplinary action will be taken against anyone behind the anti-Semitic writings "if the findings deem it."

But Kaufman isn't optimistic. He's requested a transfer to Pennsylvania, where he was raised.

"I'm pretty much an outcast here now," he says.

"I don't even want to be in the same building as these people. The upshot is the effect all of this has had on me. I know where I stand now.

"As a Jew I'm an outsider. For 20 years I tried to be a regular American without a label. They put the label back on me and now I wear it as a badge of honor."