Trevor Keezer calls himself an American patriot, a man who loves his country, God and religion. He never imagined his beliefs would get him fired.
But that’s exactly what the 20-year-old says happened when he reported for work at The Home Depot in the rural Florida town of Okeechobee, about 140 miles north of Miami.
Keezer said he’d been wearing an American flag button on his Home Depot apron since he began working as a cashier at the store in March 2008. The button read, “One nation under God, indivisible.”
“I’ve worn it for well over a year and I support my country and God,” Keezer said Tuesday. “I was just doing what I think every American should do, just love my country.”
But earlier this month, Keezer began bringing a Bible to work to read on his lunch break.
That’s when he says Home Depot management told him he would have to remove the button.
Keezer refused, and he was fired on Oct. 23, he said.
“It feels kind of like a punishment, like I was punished for just loving my country,” Keezer said.
A Home Depot spokesman said Keezer’s termination was for a violation of the company’s dress code.
“This associate chose to wear a button that expressed his religious beliefs. The issue is not whether or not we agree with the message on the button,” Craig Fishel said. “That’s not our place to say, which is exactly why we have a blanket policy, which is long-standing and well-communicated to our associates, that only company-provided pins and badges can be worn on our aprons.”
Fishel said Keezer was offered a company-approved pin that said, “United We Stand,” but he declined.
Keezer is now out of work and has retained attorneys who say they plan to sue.
He said he was working at The Home Depot to earn money for college, and wore the button to support his country and his 27-year-old brother, who is in the National Guard and is set to report in December for a second tour of duty in Iraq.
Keezer said the store manager specifically told him he was being fired because he refused to remove the button that had the word “God” on it.
“They never once said anything about the yellow ribbon” worn on his apron to support the troops, Keezer said.
Keezer’s West Palm Beach lawyer, Kara Skorupa, said she planned to sue the Atlanta-based company.
“There are federal and state laws that protect against religious discrimination,” Skorupa said. “It’s not like he was out in the aisles preaching to people.”
She also noted the slogan on Keezer’s pin is straight from the Pledge of Allegiance.
“These mottos and sayings that involve God, that’s part of our country and historical fabric,” Skorupa said. “In God we trust is on our money.”
Michael Masinter, a civil rights and employment law professor at NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said any lawsuit over religious discrimination might be a tough one to win.
“Because it’s a private business, not one that’s owned and operated by the government, it doesn’t have to operate under the free speech provisions of the First Amendment,” Masinter said.
Masinter said the only legal question would be if The Home Depot violated anti-discrimination laws meant to protect religious freedoms.
“But we’re not talking about religious displays here,” he said. “This sounds more like a political message … Wearing a button of that sort would not easily be described as a traditional form of religious expression like wearing a cross or wearing a yarmulke.
“Home Depot is under no legal obligation to allow its employees to use their work time and their work clothing to express their personal political messages,” he added.
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