Darwin Holly, a former employee of TAMKO Building Products in southern Missouri, swears he's "not a racist" over comments he made back in May 2009.
That's when Holly grabbed a slice of watermelon at a company picnic and parked himself near a few other employees. "I'm going to sit down and eat my 'Obama fruit,'" Holly informed his shocked co-workers.
A little over a week later Holly was fired on grounds that he violated the company's racial harassment policy.
Holly appealed his termination to the state's Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, which agreed that he violated TAMKO's harassment policy that prohibits employees from "making racially derogatory jokes, comments or displaying or possessing
racially derogatory or offensive symbols, emblems, writings or other
documents on TAMKO property or while conducting TAMKO business."
So Holly appealed again, this time to the Missouri Court of Appeals (Southern Division). Last week the court handed down its ruling, agreeing with the commission that Holly had indeed been fired for cause.
Writes appellate judge William Francis:
The term "Obama fruit" taken alone is not a racially derogatory comment. But, the comment was made while the claimant was eating a slice of watermelon at a company sponsored cookout at the plant. In that setting, the claimant's comment violated the employer's policy. Therefore, the claimant committed misconduct which resulted with the termination of his employment.
For his part, Holly still doesn't understand what all the fuss was about. "In my mind I was calling the president a melon head, no reference to racial whatsoever," Holly told the court.
Read the entire court of appeals ruling here