| This is the 440th story of Our Life Logs |
“We don’t need you anymore.”
The words slipped out of my supervisors’ mouth and fell onto the desk in front of me. There were no emotions behind them, no guilt, no sympathy—just a hollow phrase passively tossed my way as they multi-tasked behind their over-sized desk. I received no further explanation, just a request to pack up and leave the premises. It didn’t feel real. I had so much riding on this job, and I was being tossed away like an obsolete phone. And I wasn’t even told a reason. But in my heart, I knew why. I just didn’t want to believe it to be true.
I was brought up in Mid-Hudson Valley, New York in the mid-1990s as the youngest of three, to a brother and a sister 9 and 13 years my senior. My father left before I could even know him, and my mother was constantly working to make ends meet, so my brother and sister became parental pillars in my life. I learned everything through them from basic counting to what trails to hike and which to avoid.
I needed a lot of help in my early years. You see, I was born with Asperger’s Syndrome, so how I viewed and interacted with the world around me was different from others. Although I was considered high-functioning on the Autism spectrum, it took me more time to learn new things. But once I learned something, I could work with incredible precision and efficiency. I thrived in school, but I had a hard time reading facial expressions and expressing myself. Trying to assimilate around my peers was no easy task, and I was often bullied for being different. A shy and reserved boy, I let people walk all over me. I was placed at the Special Ed lunch table and mocked for my meticulous habits.
All the bullying had me begin to hide my disability so I could blend into society more. I became a chameleon, hiding parts of myself to fit my environment. It didn’t always work and that was hard to cope with. What got me through my days was the promise of knowing the forests behind my house were waiting to be explored after school.
The rippling creeks and monstrous trees were my retreat. The yard became a blank canvas after the annual springtime showers, making every summer a new adventure, a chance to see the latest pieces of nature that washed up. Among the verdant shrubbery, I built forts, hiked the untamed trails, and swam in the rugged brooks. I wanted to grow up to be a park ranger, but that wasn’t a reliable career path so I had come up with another plan.
After high school, I obtained two associate degrees. I always say the first was out of passion, the other out of necessity. My love of nature led me to major in environmental studies, but I also got an associate in business administration to ensure I’d have a chance in the job market. In 2014 while I was still pursuing my degrees, my mother moved to North Carolina with my sister, because New York was too expensive to live in. I was left alone to fend for myself, which meant I could not afford to be jobless.
The plan was for my mom to make her way back up to Charlottesville, Virginia, to be near my uncle, and I would join her after I finished school. I graduated with my second diploma in 2015, packed up my things, brought what little money I had, and arrived in Virginia. Only my mother never came. She had decided to stay with my sister longer so I was once again left to fend for myself.
I wouldn’t say I minded being alone, but living by myself put a lot of financial pressure on my shoulders. I was being screwed over even though my mom didn’t mean to. And I just let it happen. I quickly went searching for any job that would hire me. Most of it was just temporary work, since many jobs didn’t call back because I “didn’t fit,” but I knew that was code for, “You’re a liability.” Yet I never thought it was worth it to fight the rejections. It wasn’t until 2019 that I found a fulfilling job.
A friend of mine gave me a suggestion that changed my life. “The Target Distribution Center in Shenandoah Valley is hiring.” I researched it and saw a lot of promise in the job. Finally, a job that wasn’t contracted, that could become permanent! Cheaper housing, check. Good salary, check. Impressive benefits, check. It all seemed manageable. Of course, if I got the job, I would have to buy a car and move over the Blue Ridge mountains since Shenandoah Valley was about an hour outside of Charlottesville, but I was willing to do it all if it meant I could assimilate and be successful.
I began filling out the application. When it asked if I had any disabilities, I checked “yes” and moved on. My application got me an interview and the interview got me the job. Thus, began a new life in the Shenandoah Valley. I signed a lease for a new place, bought an affordable used car, and began working in their distribution center, the second largest in the state (according to them).
Working at Target started out great. I worked three 12-hour days then I was off four, giving me nice, long weekends. It was a lot of manual labor, but I liked it. Palletizing made me feel productive, and I managed to make a few friends there. It was all running smoothly and no one even knew that I had Asperger’s. The interviewer didn’t ask further about the disability checkbox, so I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to see how it would go, if I would be treated like everyone else. And I was. I liked it that way. But that all changed when one day, a friend made an observation about how I was stacking the boxes to scan the bar codes.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” He said. “Do you have Asperger’s?”
In that moment, I felt exposed, like maybe I wasn’t assimilating well enough. I admitted that yes, I was, and we continued working. I thought that was the end of it. But a few weeks later, he came by to tell me that he’d disclosed the info to the OMs (operational managers). After that, I had no choice but to disclose the extent of my disability and what accommodations should be made. I didn’t require much; I just asked for patience due to my extended learning curve times and to be placed with people I worked well with. I left the office confident that they would abide by the federal Americans with Disability Act laws and listen to my needs.
I was wrong.
In the weeks following, I was placed with people I’d explicitly told management that I couldn’t work well with, and I was assigned tasks without proper education or time for me to grasp it. This led to a pallet collapsing, and me in hot water.
I didn’t want to lose this job, so I worked twice as hard to keep up and show them my disability didn’t hinder me. I had a good month full of high production numbers and a positive spirit, and I began to feel confident again. But just as it was getting better, I was hit with another blow.
I should start by saying I’ve never really liked banks. We had a bank back in New York I liked because they had a great APR, but when I moved to Virginia, I couldn’t find a bank with as good of a rate, so I started carrying it on my person. No, not in a safe at home or a box in my car. I didn’t want to risk it getting stolen. At least on me, I knew where it was always. That apprehensive feeling is another common trait of those with Asperger’s.
I never had a problem or close call with my money. But one day, after a shift, I began to undress for a shower and noticed that my money was all gone! Did someone steal it or did it get thrown out? Did it fall outside of a trailer in the loading docks? This could be all be answered by the security footage that covered every square inch of that distribution center. So, I immediately returned there to report it to security and OMS so they could look for it. They claimed they saw no sign of my life savings. They made it seem like I was inconveniencing them. I was completely devastated. All my money…gone. There, then gone, just like a flash of lightning. I had no choice but to work as much as possible to make it all back.
I spent the next six weeks saving every penny as I tried to make up for the years’ worth of savings I’d lost. I was keeping up great production numbers and really thriving despite everything.
July 1, 2019. 5:45 pm, just 15 minutes before the end of my shift, I was called to the office.
I figured I was going to be given paperwork to take me off the probationary period all new workers had to have for the first three months of employment. But it was the opposite.
“We don’t need you anymore. This is your last day.”
The words entered my ears and went straight to my heart. We don’t need you.
I was being fired. But why? I tried to ask, but the HR manager didn’t give me any concrete reason. I begged her to keep me on, that I loved working there, and I’d just lost my life savings. I couldn’t afford to lose this job.
All she said to me was, “That’s not my problem!” Then she shooed me out.
I’d never felt lower in my entire life. When I returned for the follow-up visit, I was refused any paperwork or written explanation from HR for my termination. The OMs told me that I would get that from HR rather than the OMs themselves, but I never got them. It felt like bile was forming in my throat, like I was going to puke up my anger and disappointment.
I sat in the home I’d signed a lease because of this job, and I felt empty and alone. As I replayed that dreadful day back in my head, it suddenly all connected. How convenient that they fired me just weeks after they’d learned the extent of my disability. Given how well I was doing when they chose to let me go, it felt personal, like they had fired me because I had Asperger’s. That violated The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And what can you do about it? My thoughts taunted. In the past, I would have said nothing, but not this time.
I thought back to the many moments in my life that I let others walk all over me like when I had to give up my dream to stay afloat and when I had to move away from the house I grew up in just to be left alone in another state. I thought back to how others made me feel like I was different or lesser all my life. Well, not this time. I was not going to let them go away with this, not without a fight.
I didn’t feel vengeful in any way; I just wanted to get justice so I could get to a good place, to get back to zero and feel whole again. After all these years of silence, I wanted to stand up for myself. Realizing that I had the right and power to fight back has made me a stronger person altogether.
Right now, I’m saving up to hire legal help to build a discrimination case. Until I gain the closure from that, I have no choice but to stay strong and rebuild my life. I’ve started working temp jobs again and am in search of a good employer that will take me despite my disability. Maybe someday, I can live my dream of being a park ranger, but until then, I’ll look for a job that pays the bills.
I’ve decided that I will never let anyone walk all over me again. This lawsuit is a physical manifestation of that, but I also plan to stand up for myself more and be proud of who I am. No more hiding or feeling second-class. I’m just as important as anyone else, and I deserve to be treated with respect. Never again will I let someone make me question that. I am who I am, and that is Tyler, a hard worker who just so happens to have Asperger’s. I’m valid, and so are others like me.
This is the story of Tyler Mara
Tyler currently resides in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, where he is working temp jobs and saving to afford legal help for his disability lawsuit. Being born with Asperger’s Syndrome, Tyler was always treated differently and walked all over. It wasn’t until he was wrongfully fired by Target Distribution Center that he found the strength and determination to stand up for himself and be treated properly. Tyler really wants his story heard; he hopes that others with a disability don’t feel lesser of themselves like he once did. In his free time, Tyler loves exploring the outdoors. He may not have woods in his backyard anymore, but he now has a car to drive to the local parks. At night, he watches Chuck Norris whoop criminal butt or Animal Planet.
This story first touched our hearts on October 9, 2019.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: MJ; Adam Savage |
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