by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column focuses on the federal case surrounding a baseball cap with a familiar motto.
When I was young, a phrase I heard rather frequently was “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” These days, however, you don’t hear that so often, probably because it’s now ridiculously common and absurdly easy for people to “make a federal case” out of nothing more than a gripe – provided it’s a politically correct gripe.
As an example, consider the recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) case involving a post office worker who complained of illegal “workplace harassment” because another worker persisted in wearing a cap with the Gadsden Flag and its “Don’t Tread on Me” motto.
That’s the kind of petty complaint that we must now pay federal bureaucrats to investigate and resolve.
Back in 2014, a maintenance mechanic working for the U.S. Postal Service in Denver filed a complaint stating that he found the cap “racially offensive to African Americans” because the flag on it was designed by Christopher Gadsden, who, back in the 18th century, was a slave owner and trader. USPS management tried to mollify the complainant (called “Shelton D.” in case documents) and said that the other worker would be told to stop wearing the offending cap. But that worker kept on wearing it and, making matters much worse, the USPS then dismissed the complaint on the grounds that it failed to state a “cognizable claim of discrimination.”
So, not getting satisfaction from the Postal Service, Shelton D. did just what more and more Americans now do when annoyed – complain to a federal agency. The agency tasked with making all our places of work free from any actual or imagined discrimination of any sort is the EEOC.
Instead of siding with the USPS that this complaint was much ado about nothing, the EEOC decided that the matter needs further investigation. …
… Maybe the Postal Service will again decide that the complaint is groundless and maybe the EEOC will decide that the evidence adduced is good enough for it to drop the case. But however this dispute is decided, the fact that caps, clothing, and other expressions of views in the workplace can lead to regulatory trouble will have an impact on employers.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh comments on the Washington Post, “Workplace harassment law has become a content-based, viewpoint-based speech restriction, including on core political speech. A pretty serious First Amendment problem, I think.”