- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

LITTLETON, Colo. — Mike Gray can speak English fluently, and in the lawn-care business, he says, that’s a marketable asset.

So he advertises his linguistic ability with a sign on his trailer depicting an American flag with the message, “Lawn Services Done With Pride! By An English Speaking American.”

Now that sign could end up getting Mr. Gray fired. His supervisor at the Arapahoe County Road and Bridge Department has threatened to terminate Mr. Gray, a heavy-equipment operator for 16 years, unless he covers up the red, white and blue message.

Mr. Gray, 50, also was told to stop wearing his “U.S. Border Patrol” baseball cap to work. In a Nov. 10 letter, supervisor Monty Sedlak said Mr. Gray had violated “guidelines which ensure a workplace free from harassment and sensitive to the diversity of employees.”

“Some of your conduct … is reprehensible and discriminatory to our non-English speaking and/or Hispanic work force,” Mr. Sedlak wrote.

Mr. Gray, who operates the lawn-care business in his spare time, was stunned.

“They’re violating one of my constitutional rights,” he said. “This is political correctness gone nuts.”

Andrea Rasizer, an Arapahoe County spokeswoman, said the county isn’t trying to infringe upon Mr. Gray’s First Amendment rights.

“Arapahoe County strongly supports our employees’ freedom of speech, including their right to display the American flag. In fact, we have them all around our building,” she said.

Mr. Gray’s attorney, David Lane, has threatened to seek an injunction against the county to allow him to display the trailer sign and wear the hat, which was a gift from his son.

“The hat is not derogatory or inflammatory. It just says ‘U.S. Border Patrol,’ which the last time I checked was part of the U.S. government,” Mr. Gray said. “For some reason, they find it offensive.”

Ms. Rasizer said the county has hired an independent specialist on workplace issues to investigate the matter. She said she expects the investigation to conclude within two weeks.

The specialist will look into Mr. Gray’s complaints about the disciplinary action as well as complaints about Mr. Gray, she said.

“There’s more to this story than what’s being reported,” Ms. Rasizer said. “There are complaints from Mike Gray, but also from other employees in the department about his disruptive behavior.”

She declined to provide details on the complaints, saying it was a personnel matter.

Mr. Gray said he had “no clue” what she meant by “disruptive behavior.” He said he doubted the trailer, which stays in the parking lot attached to his truck, would offend anyone in the department because all the employees speak English.

“There are only 30 or 40 of us there — it’s a small operation,” he said. “We have a few Hispanics, but they’re Americans and they speak English.”

After receiving the letter, Mr. Gray said he initially stopped wearing the hat and partially covered the sign, showing only the flag and the words “English Speaking American.”

“The day I cover up the flag is the day I’m six feet under,” he said.

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