Bart Siegel

The Appellant, Larry Carpenter, was employed as a Traffic Maintenance Specialist in the Public Works Department by the City of Tampa. Larry was terminated from his employment with the City under the pretext that he was “insubordinate.”

What did his insubordination consist of? Larry chose to display a Confederate flag license plate on his personal Ford pickup truck. Larry put this license plate on his truck in 1996, and he still has it on his truck today. Mr. Carpenter committed the crime of displaying the Confederate flag on his truck while parking his vehicle in the City’s parking lot on the corner of 12th Street and Twigg. One day, as described by Elton Smith, Transportation Department Head, a complaint was made to Larry’s supervisors about the license tag.

Brian Eddings, Larry’s immediate supervisor ordered Larry to remove the license plate. Larry refused to comply. Larry filed a written grievance protesting the order. The order to remove the tag was not withdrawn. Larry appealed the order, and his appeal was denied.

In an official response to the grievance, Department Head, Elton Smith stated “City policy prohibits behavior which offends fellow employees. Such a complaint was made to your supervisors concerning the display of the confederate flag on your truck… it can and has indeed created an antagonistic environment in the workplace.”

The City of Tampa has no official written policy against the display of flags, signs, license plates, or other affiliations on vehicles owned by employees. Mr. Smith told Larry, “If you wish to pursue your claim that the Confederate flag is not an offensive symbol, and that your rights are being infringed upon, then you should continue to do so through the grievance process. However in the interim, you should do as your supervisors have instructed and remove your flag.”

Larry had worked for the city for numerous years, with African Americans, without incident. Due to his refusal to comply with the order to remove his license plate Larry was repeatedly disciplined. Larry informed his supervisors, Brian Eddings, and Buddy Stokes, in a letter, that he felt the Grievance Procedure was “not working” and that “I feel that there is no justice in the Grievance procedure as Employee relations is siding with Management.” To make a long story shorter, Larry Carpenter was terminated. Larry filed for unemployment benefits but was initially denied because he was discharged for employee misconduct.

The Unemployment Compensation Appeals Referee found that Larry’s refusal to remove the license plate was not misconduct and the City’s order violated Larry’s First Amendment rights.

Larry filed an action in court against the City of Tampa claiming that both his First Amendment Rights, and the Florida Constitution had been violated. On April 3, 2003 the City filed their “Answer and Affirmative Defense to the Complaint” and denied the salient allegations, and asserted only failure to state a cause of action, lack of custom or policy, lack of 1983 jurisdiction for policymaking authority, and failure to mitigate damages. (Who knows what that means?)

Extensive depositions were taken. Larry Carpenter was stated to have been a good employee, and not at all disruptive in the workplace. His only insubordination was to display the Confederate flag on his private vehicle.

On June 21, 2005, the City filed a motion in the District Court stating “Defendant City now moves for a Summary Judgment claiming that the City of Tampa does not have an official policy against the display of Confederate flags and that the order to remove the license plate was not a violation of Carpenter’s First Amendment right.”

The District Court soundly rejected the City’s argument that Larry did not have a First Amendment protected right, and affirmed the fact that “Carpenter’s display of a Confederate Flag license plate on the front of his personal vehicle is speech protected under the First Amendment.

You would think at this point the City would negotiate with Larry to find out what can be done to settle his grievance. Instead, the City is using its vast resources, and started a battle of legal entanglements, and procedural mumbo jumbo. Anyone that has gotten involved with our legal system knows that this is part of the Lawyers Full Employment Act, and nothing is simple. If at first you don’t succeed, the one with the deepest pockets will probably win. Now the City is legally claiming that it does not have an official policy banning the Confederate flag and these were acts of the employees. Only when an injury occurs due to an execution solely by its government policy will the government entity be responsible.

“Carpenter has no evidence to show a genuine issue of material fact that the City of Tampa has an established policy against the display of Confederate flags. The officials who terminated Carpenter’s employment were not official policymakers and their decisions were subject to meaningful review. In the absence of evidence tending to show the establishment of a policy, or custom, the summary judgment should be granted.”

The document terminating Carpenter’s employment was signed by his immediate supervisor, Brian Eddings, who works as the Service Crew Supervisor. Eddings stated that Scott Shaw gave the directive for Eddings to discipline Carpenter. Eddings claimed that eventually Shaw ordered him to terminate his employment. Scott Shaw works as a Traffic Operations Chief for the City of Tampa. He is responsible for supervising five operating arms of the city and oversees approximately a hundred city employees. Shaw stated that he received support and guidance for his decision to fire Carpenter from the Department of Public Works Relations. Elton Smith, the Department Head of Transportation signed all disciplinary action, and approved the termination. Shaw, Eddings, and Smith are primarily responsible for the termination of Larry’s employment.

Larry, and his attorney’s, is expected to respond to this claim. Larry was an employee with the city. How the heck is he supposed to pay for this litigation? How long are the attorneys helping Larry supposed to file papers without getting paid? I suppose the City’s attorneys are being paid with our money. Why don’t they wait for their money, and only receive compensation if they are successful in their defense of the city? This is another case of a City governing against its citizens, and its employees. This is another case of the little guy getting the shaft in the legal system. Where is Mayor Iorio? Doesn’t she have an opinion on this effort of the City to deny justice? Why doesn’t the City Council step in? Why aren’t the Tampa Tribune, or the St. Pete Times, or any of the other local publications all over this? I guess there aren’t any teachers having sex with their students? I guess the Buc’s, or visiting cheerleaders having sex in a bathroom, aren’t involved? There is no blood, or dead bodies in this story. This is only about a violation of the rights of a Christian, Southerner, or ordinary person. This is about a citizen trying to go through life without some activist “want to be” using the power of government to intrude on their daily life. If this was a sexual deviant wanting to put a condom on a flagpole in the front of City Hall there would be extensive press coverage. ACLU lawyers would be lining up to demand that the city turn over their keys to those whose rights were impeded. Mayor Iorio would be apologizing to those whose feelings may have been hurt. There would be a referendum approved unanimously naming that day, where justice was denied, “Condom Day.” The lawsuit would be filed, and a settlement of millions of dollars would be quietly agreed upon.

This is obviously a case of injustice. Larry is getting completely hosed. Grab your ankles Larry! Both mayors Greco, and Iorio, were, and are, obviously aware of the situation making it “official policy.”

For the city to try to blame it on the individual employees is a joke. The buck doesn’t stop anywhere! Lets have some common sense justice, PLEZ!

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