by Jordan Bondurant
A worker at the Newport News Naval Shipyard was fired recently after refusing to remove a Trump 2020 hat.
Dave Sunderland believes with the November 3 presidential election weeks away, he was unfairly targeted by a superior for wearing a baseball cap showing support for President Donald Trump’s re-election.
Huntington Ingalls Industries owns and operates the naval shipyard in Newport News, which builds aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, and the company has policies against employees wearing clothing that displays any sort of political messaging or can be deemed as campaigning for a political candidate.
Sunderland, who worked at the shipyard for almost nine years before being terminated, says he was simply wearing a ball cap.
“It wasn’t vulgar, racist or discriminatory,” he said. “It just said ‘Trump 2020’ on it.”
Sunderland told The Virginia Star that his wearing of a hat supporting the president wasn’t anything new. In fact, he said this was just the first time anyone took issue with seeing the hat.
“I had been wearing the hat and ones like it for the last four years,” he said. “I have a lot of friends (at the shipyard) and get along with a lot of people. Of course there’s disagreements, but there were never arguments. Nothing ever got ugly or out of hand.”
Typically, Sunderland would wear a baseball hat while he went to and from his job site. When he was formally on the job, Sunderland wore a hard hat. Sunderland said a foreman at his job site he hadn’t known previously instructed him to remove the Trump 2020 hat, and when he refused, that’s when human resources got involved.
“They said it wasn’t allowed and that I was campaigning,” Sunderland said. “But they chalked it up to insubordination and I lost my job.”
Duane Bourne, the manager of media relations for the company, provided the following comment to The Virginia Star regarding the matter.
“The complexity of our work requires an extraordinary level of teamwork to be successful. To that end, we have policies and procedures to eliminate anything that could negatively impact that teamwork. These long standing policies and procedures are designed to minimize disruptions and enable our work teams to remain focused on doing their jobs safely, efficiently and effectively. These policies and procedures are not specific to any particular election or candidate. Instead, they cover all manner of expression that could cause distractions from our very demanding work. Typically, when an issue comes to our attention it is handled quickly and informally. However, if an employee refuses to comply with the policy, it is treated as insubordination and discipline is administered accordingly, up to and including termination.”
Sunderland believes there’s a double-standard at play, because other workers had worn clothing or masks that supported Democrat candidates and the phrase Black Lives Matter.
“In 2016 I saw the Hillary t-shirts and in 2012 I saw the Obama shirts and didn’t hear about anything then,” he said. “They didn’t really care. They just wanted me to give up my First Amendment rights, and I didn’t want to do that. This is the United States, and we’re supposed to have freedom of expression.”
Sunderland said he hasn’t ruled out pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the shipyard, but at the same time, he’s also ready to pursue other employment opportunities.
“I’m ready to move on,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen, and it just doesn’t seem right to me.”
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