Tuesday, March 07, 2006

cbs4denver.com: CBS4 Investigates 'English Speaking' Sign Flap

CBS4 Investigates 'English Speaking' American Gardener

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."

Andrea Rasizer, spokesperson for Arapahoe County, declined to answer questions, saying the matter was a "personnel issue."

Gray said he believes his First Amendment rights are at stake, and he said he is "not about to surrender."

In response to the County's firing threat, Gray stopped wearing his Border Patrol hat to work and partly covers his business sign at work so that the American flag and the words "English speaking American" are the only things still visible.

The County says that's not enough, but it's as far as Gray is willing to go.

"Why would any American do such a thing as cover up the American flag and something that says you're an American? Its beyond me that anyone could expect me to do that like my employer is."

Gray has hired attorney David Lane, who plans to file an injunction to allow the County worker to resume wearing his hat on the job and fully display his sign.

"What is of concern to me is whether the government of Arapahoe County is violating his Constitutional rights under the First Amendment," Lane said. "When the government tries to put a gag in people's mouths because they don't like the message that's being delivered, I'd do everything in my power to stop that from happening."


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