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Trump hat causes ruckus at Suffolk County Community College

A maintenance worker says he wore a "Make America Great Again" cap at the Selden campus. The school says he violated the uniform policy.

Salvatore Esposito, of Medford, with his "Make America Great Again" cap Wednesday, which he was allegedly asked to remove by the school. He claims the college is infringing on his right to free speech by forbidding him from wearing the cap, whereas the school states that it isn't part of the college-issued groundskeeper uniform of blue pants and a blue shirt. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

A groundskeeper at Suffolk County Community College and the school are at odds over a "Make America Great Again" hat that he wore on the job.

Salvatore Esposito, 47, of Medford, argues the college is infringing on his right to free speech by forbidding him now from wearing the cap, which he had on Sunday during an open house at the Selden campus.

The college counters that Esposito is welcome to express his political beliefs, but a MAGA hat — or a cap of any kind — isn't part of the college-issued groundskeeper uniform of blue pants and a blue shirt.

"Make America Great Again" is the slogan President Donald Trump uses.

"I feel that the college is biased against me because of my political beliefs," said Esposito, a registered Republican and Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. "They violated my First Amendment rights."

The uniform policy crackdown came after Wes Lundburg, executive dean of the Ammerman Campus, spotted the MAGA hat at the open house and notified Esposito's supervisor, John Salerno. 

"While the hat doesn't have a political candidate's name nor a party or logo on it, it has nevertheless reached the level of being a clear political statement," Lundburg wrote in an email.

"As you know, the college's policy is strict about these kinds of things," Lundburg told Salerno. "Please reinforce to staff that political attire is not permissible during working hours."

Lundburg pointed out "political affiliation doesn't matter and I would take this position no matter the attire in question …"

In an email Tuesday to Esposito, Lundburg clarified his stance, saying the hat wouldn't be prohibited because of "a possible political message; it would be prohibited because it is not part of your college uniform."

SCCC isn't discriminating against Esposito because of his political affiliation, said spokesman Drew Biondo.

"The college is not pro-Democrat or pro-Republican," Biondo said. "We are pro-student. Freedom of expression is what college is all about."

Esposito said he has worn hats on the job for years, from Yankees and Islander caps to one with the Army logo. 

"They were never concerned about me wearing a hat before," said Esposito, who has worked on the college's landscaping crew for 11 years.

Esposito noted that other SCCC employees have publicly expressed their political beliefs including several who were photographed holding signs of support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young immigrants from deportation. 

The DACA images, Biondo said, were from "collegewide events in support of our diverse student body."

The school is working with the Association of Municipal Employees union about permitting some outdoor employees to wear hats on the job, Biondo said. Suffolk AME head Daniel Levler said those conversations are ongoing.

“Suffolk AME vigorously supports our members’ rights to express their political views, regardless of which end of the political spectrum they may exist," Levler said.

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