A Havelock, North Carolina Air Force veteran quit his job at the Food Lion grocery store after he was told he could not wear a mask depicting the American flag because someone found it offensive. Gary Dean, 69, was shocked when he was told, considering Havelock is a military town. After Dean's story went viral, Food Lion changed its policy to allow employees to wear face masks with an American flag.
Dean, who told WCTI he served in the Air Force from 1970 to 1976, said his manager told him he had to stop wearing a face mask with the U.S. flag printed on it after someone from Food Lion's corporate headquarters visited. "Apparently corporate came down and said 'Somebody was offended by the image of the American flag on the face covering,'" Dean said. He had been wearing the face-covering without any issue for months and thought it was against his personal values to take it off. So he quit.
"As a veteran, my dad being a World War II hero, my best friend killed in Vietnam, out of respect for them I can't just say no, I'll take my flag and put it in my pocket," Dean told WCTI. "I had to quit, out of principle." He said there was no excuse to justify disrespecting the flag. Although he is not angry with his store managers, he was upset with the corporate policy. "Why would anybody for any reason be offended by the American flag, the stars and stripes?" Dean wondered.
Food Lion deeply respects the American flag. We listened to our associates and customers about our uniform policy. We require that associates wear masks without writing, insignia or symbols. We will allow associates to wear masks with the American flag that meet this standard. pic.twitter.com/RAVYPDSYHF— Food Lion (@FoodLion) September 5, 2020
Food Lion's first response to Dean's situation spelled out the company's policies on face masks. "All face coverings must adhere to standards set by the company and communicated to each of our more than 77,000 associates," the company's statement read in part. "The policy prohibits associates from wearing clothing with writing, insignia or symbols. The dress code is meant to ensure a consistent and professional representation of our associates inside of our stores." However, on Thursday, the company issued another statement, confirming that face coverings with the American flag will be allowed.
After the change, Dean told WCTI he spoke with Food Lion officials himself about the change. "It was just a statement of faith and a statement of my belief in my country and my flag that's all it took off on its own because its a good cause and it worked," he said. "We won, God won, the county won, freedom won." Dean said they offered him his job back, but he is not sure if he will take the offer.