A manager at Vancouver’s Stanley Park Teahouse restaurant has been fired for refusing service to a customer wearing a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hat.
The red baseball caps formed an important part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and have become iconic symbols of his supporters.
But the hats have also sparked controversy among many who call them symbols of racism, bigotry and anti-gay hatred.
Fired manager Darin Hodge said the issue erupted when he asked a customer to take off their MAGA hat. In an emailed statement, he said he would do it again.
Eva Gates, Vice president of Human Resources for the Sequoia Group of Restaurants — which owns the Teahouse — agreed with how the incident began, but said it amounted to a refusal of service.
“A gentleman came in wearing a hat that was a Make America Great Again hat, and our manager went up to the gentleman and asked him to take off his hat, that he wouldn’t serve him with that hat on,” she said.
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In a previous statement, the company called the manager “a good person with a big heart and a right to his personal beliefs.” However, it said he was fired for violating the company’s “philosophy of tolerance.”
“Sequoia does not support intolerance of any kind, and it is because of these principles that we cannot discriminate against someone based on their support for the current administration in the United States or any other bona fide political party,” reads the statement.
Employee and human rights lawyer, David Brown with Kent Employment Law said the Teahouse has a right to fire employees for a variety of reasons, even those not related to their performance.
“In most circumstances in Canada there is nothing inherently wrong with terminating an employee, provided that the employee is not being discriminated against in some way that is protected under law.”
Protected categories would include things such as gender, race, religion or mental or physical disability.
He said if the manager did, in fact, refuse to serve the guest, the company would have a strong case for termination with cause, meaning the employee wouldn’t be entitled to severance.
However, Brown said the employee also may also be able to argue in case that they were wrongfully dismissed.
“He could certainly sue the Teahouse for wrongful dismissal, and in that circumstance there would be a debate whether he was fired for cause or wrongfully dismissed.”
Brown adds employees’ political views are protected under the human rights act, but so are the customer’s.
It’s not the first time a MAGA hat has sparked controversy north of the border.
Last year, an Ontario judge who wore one of the red caps in court was suspended without pay after an oversight body found the action was a “single aberrant and inexplicable act of judicial misconduct.”
And back in 2016, a student at Calgary’s Mount Royal University sparked controversy when a video of a confrontation between him and another student went viral.
— With files from Robyn Crawford and The Canadian Press