As a thank-you gesture to the families of NYPD officers killed in the line of duty, the folks who produce Shady Brook Farms turkey sent an East Islip family a voucher for a free Thanksgiving bird this year like they do every year.
May Schaberger, 63, a Vietnamese-American who speaks English with an accent, went grocery shopping at her local Pathmark in Islip last week. Store employees treated her like a common criminal when she used the voucher to pay for the turkey, she said.
"I was upset," Schaberger said in an interview Wednesday. "It was an honor to receive the voucher, but I felt like dirt." She said she redeemed the same coupon at the same store last year.
Angry and insulted, Schaberger filed a lawsuit Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court in Suffolk alleging Pathmark employees, among other things, practiced racial discrimination. No monetary damages were mentioned in the lawsuit.
The Pathmark store supervisor and his assistant treated Schaberger differently because she is Asian, the lawsuit contends. The men assumed, incorrectly, that Schaberger speaks limited or no English, she said.
"She probably downloaded it from the Internet," one man said to the other within Schaberger's earshot before refusing to honor the $25 voucher.
The men didn't believe the voucher was legitimate even after Schaberger said she showed them the letter from Shady Brook Farms that accompanied the coupon. Her son, Alain Schaberger, 42, an NYPD officer, was killed in 2011 when an ex-con shoved him off the stoop of a Brooklyn brownstone, breaking his neck.
"To show our sincere thanks and honor your loved one, please find enclosed a voucher for a Shady Brook Farms turkey to enjoy this holiday season," the letter said. Then Schaberger produced an NYPD card identifying the family as survivors of a fallen officer.
A woman who answered the phone at the Pathmark, located at 155 Islip Ave. in Islip, identified herself only as Marie and had little to say.
"We have no comment on that. He [the manager] has no comment. You have to call the main office," she said and immediately hung up.
A&P, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which owns Pathmark, did not return calls or respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment.
Schaberger met her husband, Paul Schaberger, 65, in Vietnam, where he served two tours with the Army, then worked at the American Embassy in Saigon. The couple fled Vietnam in 1975 and shortly after settled in East Islip.
The irony, Paul Schaberger said, is that his wife shops regularly at Pathmark, including the one in Islip. In the 12 weeks preceding the confrontation, he said, credit card bills showed she shopped at Pathmark stores nine times, six of them at the Islip location.
Had he accompanied his wife, Schaberger said, Pathmark employees would not have dared treat him the way they treated her.
"To have her treated that way, it made me crazy," he said. "You serve the public, all the public."
The Schabergers would like an apology from the Pathmark employees and want the company to train its workers to treat customers of all races with dignity and respect.
"I want them to treat me and people like me with better manners," May Schaberger said.