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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With White Dairy Employee Fired for Displaying Confederate Flag

Aired June 2, 2003 - 20:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. The Confederate battle flag, long a subject of controversy, it's back in the news today. A federal appeals court has ruled against a white South Carolina dairy worker who put a confederate flag sticker on his toolbox -- actually two stickers. After a black co-worker complained, the dairy asked the white worker to remove the stickers. When he refused, the dairy fired him. The court ruled that while the white worker had that right to display the flag on his own time, he didn't have the right to bring it into the workplace.
Joining us from Charleston, South Carolina are the worker, Matthew Dixon and his lawyer Samuel Howell. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us. Matthew, let me start off with you. Obviously you're disappointed by this ruling today. Why was it important to you to have the Confederate flag sticker on your toolbox and bring it into work?

MATTHEW DIXON, FIRED WORKER: The Confederate flag sticker was just part of heritage, part of my family. And it had been there prior to my employment there, it was the toolbox and was just there when I went to work for them.

COOPER: So exactly what happened? I know, as you said, it had been there a while. When did a co-worker take offense?

DIXON: I left from Coburg Dairy's for a brief period and when I came back to work, it was a heated discussion with the state house here. And the black co-worker complained and said that he wanted me to remove it.

COOPER: And then the company basically showed you their harassment policy and said what?

DIXON: They told me that a co-work had complained about it and said that it was offensive. The policy at the time was extremely vague and didn't really say anything about the flag or any kind of flag as being offensive.

COOPER: Samuel, you're the attorney in this case. I know, obviously, you're also disappointed by the ruling today. Explain the ruling because basically what my understanding of what the judges were saying is you have a right to display this flag on your truck, above your home, outside in the public. But to bring it into a private workplace is a different matter entirely, is that right? SAMUEL HOWELL, DIXON'S ATTORNEY: Well, what South Carolina did was pass a law to try to extend civil liberty protection to all employees, even those in a private employment context. Right now, public employees, that is people who work for the government, either the state or local government or federal government, don't give up their First Amendment Constitutional rights when at the go to work.

Well, South Carolina extended that protection to private employees as well. However, in a split decision, two of the three judges decided to reject South Carolina's expansion of civil liberties and ruled that in this case Coburg Dairy could act as judge, jury and executioner and fire Matthew Dixon.

COOPER: All right, we're going to leave it there with you gentlemen. Matthew Dixon, Samuel Howell, appreciate you joining. Thanks very much.

We contacted Mr. Dixon's former employer, Coburg Dairy. It's public relations firm says the company will withhold comment until it has an opportunity to look over the court ruling.

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