Update: Woman who says she was fired from local restaurant over mask dispute may sue owner

Woman who says she was fired from local restaurant over mask dispute may sue owner

FARMERSVILLE — UPDATE 6/9/20

The woman we reported on Monday as saying she was fired from a local restaurant for refusing to wear a “Trump 2020” mask now tells us she may sue her former employer.

Jason Matthews, a lawyer who specializes in employer law, is now representing Kristen Houser.

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However, it’s not so cut-and-dry whether the pair have a case.

The first amendment only protects free speech at work for public sector employees, and does not extend to private businesses. But Matthews believes there is still a case to be made under Ohio law.

“There is an Ohio statute, it’s Ohio Revised Code, Section 3599.05 which addresses employers coercing employees into engaging in political activity," he told News Center 7′s John Bedell.

Matthews and Hauser say suing is not going to be their first option, though, and that they hope to reach an amicable solution with the Village Inn’s owner.

“Our next step is to contact that employer to see if something can be worked out and to compensate Kristen for damages she’s incurred and hopefully to protect other employees from being subjected to similar treatment," Matthews said.

John Bedell has reached out to the owner once more for comment, but has not received a response.

FIRST REPORT

A woman in a Facebook post says she was terminated from a local restaurant over her refusal to wear a mask that had presidential campaign imagery on it.

According to Kristen Houser’s Facebook post, this is over a mask that read “Trump 2020.”

She said she showed up to work last week at the Village Inn in Farmersville for the first time since the place shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She wrote she brought her own mask, but that her boss told her she had one for her, the one with “Trump 2020” printed on the front.

The server wrote in her post that she asked if she could wear it inside out and she said her boss agreed at first that would be OK, but she said he boss added, “Well, you can’t be for Biden.” The woman wrote she responded, “I wasn’t for anyone and didn’t think it was appropriate.”

She wrote in the now-viral post that she came back with a surgical mask the next day and the owner told her she had to wear the “Trump 2020” mask.

That was when she said, “I told him I would not do this and he said I needed to leave. My response was to tell him that it was a pleasure working for him, and I proceeded to clock out and leave."

Later in the post, she says she was fired, saying, “I was terminated for nothing more than my desire to remain neutral. I was fired because I would not wear a “Trump 2020” mask.”

News Center 7 went to the restaurant Monday looking for comment, but no one was there. A phone call to the restaurant’s owner has not been returned.

The woman said she wants any further comments to go through her lawyer, who has agreed to an interview with News Center 7 Tuesday.

Many people wondered in the comments of her Facebook post if it’s legal for an employer to force employees to wear political attire. News Center 7 could not find anything to definitively answer that Monday -- but that’s a question WHIO will continue to look into.