What a Dept. of Justice Complaint Looks Like

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section

OMB No. 1190-0009

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Discrimination Complaint Form

Instructions: Please fill out this form completely, in black ink or type. Sign and return to the address on page 3.

Complainant:  Anne C. Woodlen


City, State and Zip Code:  Syracuse, New York 13210

Telephone: Home: 
Government, or organization, or institution which you believe has discriminated:

Name:  City of Syracuse

233 E. Washington St.

County:  Onondaga

City:  Syracuse

State and Zip Code:  New York 13202

Telephone Number:  (315) 448-8005

When did the discrimination occur? Date:  Ongoing—first notified City in September 2009

Describe the acts of discrimination providing the name(s) where possible of the individuals who discriminated (use space on page 3 if necessary):  Failure to repair inaccessible curb-cuts and sidewalks.

I am a disabled person who uses a power wheelchair.  In January 2009 I moved to my current address in the City of Syracuse and found the surrounding area to be compromised by broken sidewalks and unusable curb-cuts.


The area

On September 25, 2009, Pete O’Connor of the Dept. of Public Works and I walked/wheeled the five-block area bounded by Harrison Street, Almond Street, Adams Street and University Avenue.  He noted fourteen violations.

It is the most congested area in the city.  The county’s two biggest employers are Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical Center.  The Rt. 81 off-ramp to these places exits on Adams St; the Rt. 81 on-ramp enters off Harrison.  During commuting times, these streets are bumper-to-bumper with traffic.  Some of the streets are six lanes wide.

I live in a HUD-subsidized apartment building for the elderly and disabled at . . . .  The manager estimates that at least fifty of the 180 tenants use power wheelchairs or scooters.  We are out every day, and we are forced into the streets. 

Further, the area at issue includes Upstate Medical Center, Hutchings Psychiatric Center and Crouse Hospital, and must be crossed to get to the V.A. Hospital.  There is an extraordinarily high volume of wheelchair traffic both from residents and from those coming into the area for outpatient medical treatment.

This is no ordinary city neighborhood.  This is a heavily-used, high traffic area with more than fourteen problems identified by the city in the five-block area.  As a result of being forced out into the street by substandard curb-cuts and sidewalks, speeding cars have come within inches of hitting me three times in the past eighteen months.

The work

As you will see by the attached series of emails, O’Connor (October 16, 2009) drew up a list of work that needed to be done.

Regarding broken sidewalks:  virtually all the property owners are corporate, including—

NYS Hutchings Psychiatric Center

Syracuse City School District

SUNY Upstate Medical Center

Crouse Hospital

Rosewood Nursing Home (part of Loretto, which has a $150 million annual budget)

Mr. O’Connor did not notify any of these corporations that their sidewalks are broken and below minimum standards.  It may be arguable as to whether he has the budget for repairs, however, it is unquestionable that he has the staff to do the paper work to cite property owners.  He could have notified them; he didn’t.

(N.B.  It is worth noting that two blocks to the southeast, Syracuse University’s sidewalks are about 97% perfect.)

Mr. O’Connor put me off with claims that the work would be too expensive or the weather would be prohibitive.  In fact, winter got off to a late start last year, and the weather was open for work for two months after we did the walk-around. 

Many of the “fixes” are not expensive.  Several curb-cut problems could be resolved simply by dumping some Tarvia in to build up the street.  All one problem needed was a man with a can of paint to re-line the intersection. 

When I went back to Mr. O’Connor this summer, he said that he couldn’t find the list he’d made.  The problem is not the money; the problem is not the weather; the problem is that the city does not take seriously their responsibility under the ADA to make travel safe for people with disabilities.

In the past decade two people in wheelchairs have been killed on city streets.  They probably wouldn’t have been in the streets if the curb-cuts and sidewalks were being maintained.

The people

            I variously have had face-to-face, phone and/or email contact with DPW Commissioner Pete O’Conner, ADA Coordinator Shirley Rowser, Mayor Stephanie Miner and others in City Hall.  Without exception, they all have been courteous to me and willing to make contact with others in city government.

            The problem is that Pete O’Connor is the only who can get the job done, and he isn’t doing it.

            Regarding the walk-around in September 2009, Mayor Miner said she wasn’t responsible for things that didn’t happen “on [her] watch.”  That is true.  What is also true is that when she took office in January 2010, she took O’Connor from his position in the DPW and made him commissioner.

            Mr. O’Connor did nothing last year and in a phone call this August he flatly stated that nothing would be done this year either.  He later backed off that statement in an email.

            As I write this, the sky is blue, the ground is dry, and the temperature is 70 degrees.  The weather is simply perfect for a little road work. 

Email attachments

Have efforts been made to resolve this complaint through the internal grievance procedure of the government, organization, or institution?

Yes__X____ No______

If yes: what is the status of the grievance?  Conversations have been held with ADA Coordinator Shirley Rowser, Dept. of Public Works Commissioner Pete O’Connor and Mayor Stephanie Miner; no work has been done
Has the complaint been filed with another bureau of the Department of Justice or any other Federal, State, or local civil rights agency or court?

Yes______ No___X___

Do you intend to file with another agency or court?

Yes______ No__Not at this time___

Signature: _________________________________________

Date: ________________________________

Return to:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Disability Rights – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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1 Response to What a Dept. of Justice Complaint Looks Like

  1. arleen fordock says:

    Anne, the complaint is justified and you have done excellent job from beginning (Mr O’Connor) to the point of having
    patience to see if the work was done. The City of Syracuse has dropped the ball, but the ADA will have the final
    word and disabled will once again feel safe on the streets of Syracuse. The excuses of “no $” are a little tedious
    to hear, as since Mayor Miner took over we taxpayers have paid $ out on harrassment lawsuits and paid out $ to
    take down a warehouse bldg that caused Rt 81(or was it Rt 690) to be closed for at least a month. AND don’t
    forget newspaper announcements of other items this new City regime is paying for, one for sure in my opinion
    is a lot of $ going into “green” projects. The “green $” & other tax-generated-money need to be disseminated fairly. Some property property owners are disabled, proud to be in this city of ours!.
    The “general fund” can be raided at will by any officer of City of Syracuse, seems like. However, the expense for disabled is truly justified and by law will result in corrections. You have done a great service to your fellowman/fellowwoman.
    Thank you!—af

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