U.S.

College Groundskeeper Claims School Violated His Rights by Barring Him From Wearing Trump 'MAGA' Hat at Work

A Suffolk County Community College groundskeeper accused the school of violating his First Amendment rights when he was told he couldn’t wear President Donald Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat to work.

Suffolk County Community College Director of Communications Drew Biondo told Newsweek that the topic of politics at the workplace is a “very nuanced, complicated thing.” But, he said, when it comes to the situation involving groundskeeper Salvatore Esposito, it was “purely a uniform issue.”  

On Sunday, Esposito was working at an open house on campus and Biondo said he wasn’t aware of anyone complaining about the “MAGA” hat, but it was brought to Esposito’s boss’ attention when the executive dean noticed it.

Esposito told News 12 Long Island that the executive dean told his boss he couldn’t wear the hat because it was a “politically identifiable statement.” Esposito said he’s worked at the campus for years, but Sunday was the first time he’d worn his “MAGA” hat to work.  

“Our dean kind of misspoke and he was right in saying it’s not proper work attire, but they’re under a collective bargaining agreement and they have an approved college uniform and a hat isn’t part of the approved college uniform,” Biondo told Newsweek.

Esposito claimed that during the 2016 presidential election, he saw members of the staff wearing apparel that supported then-Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton. He added that just because he wore a “MAGA” hat, that shouldn’t be perceived as an attack on anyone else’s political opinions.

suffolk county community college make america great again hat President Donald Trump holds a 'Make America Great Again' hat as he speaks to the media before departing from the White House on March 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C. An employee at Suffolk County Community College said he was told he couldn't wear a "MAGA" hat to work because it violated the uniform dress code. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"I feel that the college is biased against me because of my political beliefs," Esposito told Newsday. "They violated my First Amendment rights."

Suffolk County Community College Director of Communications Drew Biondo told Newsweek that there are student activities on campus, which may involve faculty, that are liberal leaning. However, he reasoned the difference is that the school is designed to support their students’ advocating for topics that stoke their passion.

“We encourage our students to be politically active. But our employees, there are certain work rules,” Biondo said. “…We are neither pro-Democrat nor pro-Republican. We’re pro-student.”

Even among the faculty, Biondo noted that there are often political discussions but maintained that Esposito was only unable to wear the “MAGA” hat because it wasn’t part of the uniform. The communications director added that had Esposito been vocalizing his opinions in support of Trump while on a break at the event, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

“I really feel that the college is now backtracking saying it’s a uniform issue, it never was before, but now all of a sudden it is,” Esposito told News 12 Long Island.

Some people, who commented about the story on social media, argued that the only reason Esposito had to remove his hat was because it supported Trump. If it had been a hat supporting former President Barack Obama or Clinton, some claimed, there wouldn’t be a problem.

However, others sided with the school and said regardless of the message, government employees, including those employed by a public university, shouldn’t be making political statements at work. Other users pointed to workplace dress codes and claimed it was reasonable for employees to have to follow it.

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