Larry Carpenter has sued the city of Tampa, Fla., claiming it violated his
First Amendment rights when it fired him for refusing to remove a license plate
depicting the Confederate flag from the front of his pickup truck.
Though Carpenter didn't use the truck in his job as a traffic worker, he did
park it in a city lot. In January 2002, a supervisor told him to remove the
plate or park his truck away from city property. Carpenter refused; the city
suspended him without pay three times. Finally, on Sept. 11, 2002, Carpenter
came to work and was told he had been fired.
According to the lawsuit, only one person complained about the plate in the
six years Carpenter worked for the city, and there is no city policy dealing
specifically with license plates or bumper stickers on personal vehicles.
But city policy does forbid employees from using slurs and other conduct directed
at another person's race, color, national origin, sex, religion, handicap or
age. Tom Gonzalez, labor and employment attorney for the city, told the St.
Petersburg Times that city officials acted properly in firing Carpenter.
"I don't think a public employee has any particular right in displaying
that flag parked in a parking lot," Gonzalez said. "It's obvious that
flag has resulted in a great deal of controversy. It's not a secret that it
can cause a disruption in the workplace."
Carpenter, however, insisted that he's no racist. He carries the the plate,
he told the Times, because he is a Civil War buff.
"People need to understand that this isn't a fight about the Old South
and slavery," said his attorney, J. Benton Stewart II.
"It's a fight for my rights," Carpenter insists.
The St. Petersburg Times