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Dress code for park workers gets thumbs-up from court

By The Associated Press
11.28.06

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Kentucky State Parks employee dress code that required tucked-in shirts did not violate employees' constitutional rights, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling upheld a lower court's decision dismissing a lawsuit brought by three state workers fired from General Burnside Island State Park for dress code violations.

"The plaintiffs provide little argument to rebut the determination that untucked shirts do not amount to speech on a matter of public concern," Judge Boyce Martin Jr. wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel in Roberts v. Ward. "There is no suggestion, for example, that they were untucking their shirts to express their opinion on some political question."

William Leslie, Genell Roberts and Sandra Dale were fired in 2004 for not tucking in their shirts. They claimed the rules made it difficult for them to do their jobs, citing the heat and bugs. Leslie, a Navy veteran, also had a "USN" tattoo on his arm.

The three employees were seasonal workers at the park, which is located near Somerset. Their supervisor, John Troxell, resigned in protest shortly after they were fired.

The employees claimed, among other things, that the Department of Parks' dress code violated their First Amendment rights. They also claimed they had been wrongfully fired and that the state violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

They sought $16.4 million and reinstatement in the case, which a federal judge dismissed in August 2005.

Attorney Phillip Shepherd, who represented the employees, said he was disappointed by the court's decision. Shepherd, however, said the employees did not believe state officials followed the proper procedure in changing the rules.

"The employees who have carried on this fight have shown a lot of courage and determination," Shepherd said. "Even though we did not get a positive result, they should be commended for standing up to the arbitrary exercise of government power."

Commerce Secretary George Ward, who was parks commissioner at the time, said he was pleased by the decision that the department's actions were "lawful and constitutional." Out of the 2,400 Department of Parks employees, no others were fired or had disciplinary actions over the dress-code policy, Ward said.

"These individuals were given a choice whether or not to tuck in their shirts and they chose to violate our policy and suffer the consequences for that choice," Ward said.

The court also found that it did not have to address whether the tattoo ban violated employees' rights as Leslie had refused to tuck in his shirt and could have been fired for that reason alone.


Related

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Some schools find they must clamp down on short skirts, baseball caps, flip-flops, T-shirts, spandex on adults in the classroom. 09.13.05

2nd Circuit: Conn. city can force police to cover tattoos

Attorney says courts are being unfair to police officers who claim First Amendment right to display spider-web image. 02.02.06

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