Restaurant Worker Says She Was Fired for Refusing to Wear 'Trump 2020' Mask

Can an employer legally fire someone for refusing to wear a specific political message? The answer is: maybe.
June 9, 2020, 8:25pm
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Photo: Getty Images

In late May, Ohio governor Mike DeWine gave the official OK for restaurants to resume indoor dining, provided that each establishment operated at reduced capacity, that the tables were rearranged to ensure adequate distance between customers, and that restaurant employees wore face masks while they worked.

When Kris Hauser, a longtime server at the Village Inn in Farmersville, clocked in for her first shift since the pandemic began, she wore a surgical-style face mask that she'd brought from home. But according to WHIO and her now-viral Facebook post, she was immediately stopped by her boss and given a cloth mask with "Trump 2020" printed on it. Hauser said she asked whether she could wear the mask inside out, and she was allowed to work her hours with the words "Trump 2020" pressed against the lower half of her face. (She also wrote that her unnamed boss told her that she "can't be for Biden.")

The next day, she wore another single-use surgical mask after she said she was given the OK to rotate the 'Trump' mask if she hadn't had a chance to launder it after her shift. She wrote that she'd been at the restaurant for 45 minutes before the owner, Scott Jacobs, told Hauser and the masked bartender to change into their 'Trump 2020' masks.

"I responded and told him I would wear it, but I would wear it inside out, which a majority of employees had been doing already for the days prior," she wrote. "Scott told me, 'No, you will wear it with Trump 2020 facing out for people to see.' I told him I would not do this, and he said that I needed to leave. My response was to tell him that it was a pleasure working for him, and I proceeded to clock out and leave."

In a now-deleted Facebook post, Jacobs shared a photo of himself in a stars-and-stripes patterned mask, which had a glittery "Trump 2020" logo in the center of it. "Required uniform for all Village Inn employees," he wrote. (Jacobs has also removed a link to a Federalist article about President Barack Obama's "coup against Trump," which he captioned "Should be some hangings.")

As of this writing, the Village Inn has removed its Facebook page, most likely due to the backlash it has received since Hauser's alleged termination. A similarly-named restaurant 25 miles away has also had to explain that no, it isn't the one with the Trump masks. "Village Family Restaurant is located in Waynesville, Ohio and is in no way affiliated with Village Inn in Farmersville, Ohio," the Village Family Restaurant wrote on Saturday.

There have been widely reported instances where employees have been fired for refusing to serve someone in a MAGA hat, for wearing politically motivated clothing on the job, or even for having a bumper sticker supporting the "wrong" presidential candidate. But can an employer really fire a worker for refusing to wear a 'Trump 2020' mask, or a Ridin' With Biden t-shirt, or any other political message? Maybe.

Only a handful of states have laws that make it illegal for a private employer to discriminate against an employee because of their political beliefs. (Ohio is not one of those states). Debra Katz, a Washington, D.C. employment lawyer, told the Washington Post that workers could be terminated if they "object" to their bosses' politics. "[There is a] failure of the law to provide any type of protection for political affiliation discrimination or refusal to engage in political activity that your employer asks you to engage in,” she said. “That is clear as a bell.”

WHIO reports that Hauser has already retained an attorney. Despite getting fired, she still believes that she did the right thing. "I decided to stay neutral in my place of work and was penalized for it. I have my state educator license and have a goal to teach in the school district in which this restaurant is located," she wrote.

"To me, this is the biggest reason I found it inappropriate. I knew that wearing this mask would hinder me in the future when I sought out new employment opportunities […] I have never been terminated from a position. I was terminated for nothing more than my desire to remain neutral."

VICE has contacted the Village Inn for comment.