LIBERTY TWP., Ohio (WKBN) – Denzel Skinner is now without a job.
Skinner, who was a shift leader at the Belmont Avenue Taco Bell for eight years, said he lost his job Monday after refusing to take off a Black Lives Matter face cover he wore to work.
In a Facebook Live video he posted, and later while talking to a First News reporter, Skinner said he wore the cover because the surgical masks provided to employees are inadequate when it is warm.
***Warning: Video contains strong language
He said the restaurant’s air conditioning recently broke, making it very hot inside, and the surgical mask makes it hard to breathe when it is warm. So, Skinner decided to switch to the Black Lives Matter face mask because it was easier to breathe through.
“It just makes it hotter with that [surgical] mask on,” Skinner said.
He said a manager told him he had to take it off. Skinner refused and walked out of the restaurant. He said he was then told if he walked out, he would lose his job, and he did.
Because of the recent unrest surrounding the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, Skinner thought it was important to speak up, which is why he wore the mask. He said he had someone make the mask for him.
Skinner said Taco Bell’s policy reads that employees must wear a face cover while working, but the policy does not say if employees could wear masks with messages on them.
“All it stated was [the mask] had to be clean,” Skinner said.
Skinner said he is not going to ask for his job back and would not return if asked.
He said as a team leader, he still worked under 30 hours a week and was never eligible for a paid vacation. He said he plans on spending time with his family while trying to decide what to do next.
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, Taco Bell said:
We are disappointed to learn what took place in Youngstown. We are working with our franchisee that operates this location to understand what happened. We are committed to fighting racial injustice and hosting open forums to give restaurant teams an opportunity to discuss racism in America. Our priority is to be an inclusive brand while keeping team members and customers safe.”
The statement also said that because of supply shortages for masks, employees are allowed to bring in their own mask or face cover. The company added, however, “As this is a fluid situation, we’re in the process of considering the need to revise mask and uniform requirements to address recent concerns.”