Arapahoe County is threatening to fire a veteran Public Works employee for promoting the fact that he is an English speaking American."They claim it's offensive and I've been accused of discrimination and harassment, believe it or not, because of this," said Mike Gray, a heavy equipment operator with the Arapahoe County Road and Bridge Department for 16 years. The problems began last spring. Gray, 50, owns a lawn service business on the side. He was routinely driving to work in his pickup truck towing a trailer that he uses to carry lawn mowing equipment for his business. On the side of his trailer, the married father of two affixed a sign that reads "Lawn Services Done With Pride!! By An English Speaking American."The sign also gives Gray's phone number and the lettering is over a background of an American flag."There are a lot of people in the lawn service that are non-English speaking," Gray said. "Customers and different people were telling me that they have a hard time trying to communicate with them about the work they want done on their yards. I just want to let people know they at least can communicate with me when I do work on their property." Gray also wore a hat to work that says "U.S. Border Patrol," which he says was a gift from his son.
Arapahoe County officials told Gray the sign and hat must go or else. In a Nov. 10, 2005, letter, his supervisor Monty Sedlak wrote the following: "Some of your conduct ... is reprehensible and discriminatory to our non-English speaking and/or Hispanic workforce. You are in violation of ... guidelines which ensure a workplace free from harassment and sensitive to the diversity of employees." "You are required to permanently remove your cap from the workplace. It is offensive and harassing. Your business sign, if on work premises, must be completely covered at all times. This behavior is inappropriate and any further incidents of this nature may result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment."
Gray has hired an attorney to fight the County on First Amendment grounds. Sorry, Mr. Gray, the government is your employer, and it may forbid speech at the workplace that it thinks is offensive to other workers, even if you think your boss is being hypersensitive (and personally, I don't see anything "harassing" about wearing a hat that says "U.S. Border Patrol," though I can see, in context, why some would find it offensive). What the government could not do is require you to cover your sign, or forbid you to wear your hat, outside the workplace.
On the other hand, the government may fire a prosecutor who attends racist meetings, given that having such a prosecutor on staff is likely to reduce public faith in the fairness of the justice system.
Yes, I'm troubled by the fact that the government, acting as employer, has such censorious powers. In the case of the prosecutor, it's pretty much unavoidable. In Mr. Gray's case, it provides another reason to support privatization of peripheral government functions.