West Virginia Officer Fired For Not Removing Marine Corps Tattoo

The firing of Christopher Piggott, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and former Parkersburg firefighter, has caused a free speech and due process controversy in West Virginia. Piggot was fired because he would not have a Marine Corps tattoo removed from his forearm.

Piggott, 29, was fired on April 15 by the Wood County Sheriff’s Office due to the tattoo on his right forearm depicting two praying hands cupping a Marine Corps ID tag. Above the hands are the words “Unless you were there.” He spent five years in the Corps, including two tours in Iraq.

The Sheriff’s Office has a policy that mandates “[t]attoos are not to be visible while wearing the summer uniform.” Piggotts use of long sleeves or a black band over the tattoo was not sufficient.

He seems to have a strong due process claims in his denial of a hearing on the matter. The first amendment issue is more difficult. Various businesses have such a rule against tattoos, including the Marines who now ban large tattoos beneath the elbow or knee.

For the full story, click here.

18 thoughts on “West Virginia Officer Fired For Not Removing Marine Corps Tattoo

  1. I am one that is against tattoos. The reason being is because of my grandfather that had them up and down his arms. I as a child asked him why he had gotten them. Well every Navy person gets them he said. Ok, I was satisfied, I then asked if he would get them again. He said, no, because he did not like them and wished that he could get them taken off as they sagged and had become blurry. At the time laser was not an option.

    People are getting tattoos still today because the ink is different and it is body art. Ok, if that’s the reason then ok. But what about sagging skin……

    Back to the story. If this was the policy when he was hired and they have no Union to back him, then he is at will and can be fired because he parts his hair on the wrong side. again, if he took the job knowing the policy why should an exception be made. Free speech is ok for him.

    What if a person set fire to a flag on November 10 (Marine Corp celebrated Bday) would they be arrested by him for expressing their speech?

  2. My Navy grandfather had 4 tattoos on his arms, which he got when he was an 18 year old sailor in WWI. They were very plain and all Navy related, sort of the Popeye kind. He also said he wished he hadn’t gotten them and they just got blurry and faded as he aged. Makes you wonder what some of these young kids with real elaborate tatoos will look like when they’re 50.

    I agree with Prof. Turley that this particular case raises first amendment issues. What’s their problem? Is it tatoos in general or that fact that this particular tatoo may have religious conotations?

  3. Nothing offensive about it and rather well done.
    If it were a bit racey or contained bad language I would agree with the employer.
    Can’t see a problem with this particular tattoo.

  4. Isabel D.

    This is West Virginia. I doubt there’d be any objection to any religious conotations – tattoo or otherwise. Or to a military type tattoo, for that matter.

    The only family member of mine that had a tattoo (a Navy man) said he woke up after a drunken night and found tattoos on both arms. Apparently tattoos are a proud Navy tradition. Even Popeye had them.

    If the Marines are banning tattoos, maybe that will keep some of the militia members, who are joining to get military training, out.

  5. I don’t understand why it’s a problem if the officer was willing to wear long sleeves during the summer.

    I’m also unclear why the officer was hired to begin with, if it was known that he was violating that policy. Presumably one of the questions asked is: do you have any tattoos that would be visible when wearing short sleeves? If that’s the case then a) why did they hire him? or b) they could fire him for lying on his application, not for the underlying tattoo.

  6. James M.

    I’m also unclear why the officer was hired to begin with, if it was known that he was violating that policy. Presumably one of the questions asked is: do you have any tattoos that would be visible when wearing short sleeves? If that’s the case then a) why did they hire him? or b) they could fire him for lying on his application, not for the underlying tattoo.

    ================================================================

    Excellent point

    I, personally, find tattoos on anyone distasteful … the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder and I find all body art downright ugly. But that’s just me … and whoever made that stupid rule in Wood County W VA.

  7. Having a policy that would allow some tattoos and not others, depending on content, would cause significant problems itself. I’d rather be defending a client with a “no tattoos allowed” policy than a “some tattoos allowed” policy.

  8. blhll – exactly!

    As stated above the question is how did he get hired to start with? Maybe he got the tattoo after he was hired.

    I grew up around tattooed vets & every one of them regretted it. My oldest boy got back from Afghanistan & hid his tattoos. I thought that was oddly sad & funny – combat vet afraid of his wrinkled, broken down, old man. At least he was smart enough to get them up high so a short sleeve shirt can hide them.

  9. I think a lot of police/sheriff departments have similar “no visible tattoos” policies, and I am highly in favor of this. True, I dislike tattoos in general, so my personal preferences add into this, but the reason that so many have these rules is that appearances are important. As tattoos used to be just for military folks, bikers and criminals, the police should be such that they are easily distinguished from the latter two of those groups. To me, being used to this standard, if I were to be pulled over by someone or saw an “officer” at my door with visible tattoos, you bet I’m calling 911 before I open the door or window.

    As for this guy, he knew the rules, they probably hired him on condition he’d get the tattoo removed, and gave him some time frame in which to get it done. He apparently didn’t do it. His problem. This is part of the office “dress code”. It’s fully within the department’s rights to enforce it.

  10. Jen

    [As for this guy, he knew the rules, they probably hired him on condition he’d get the tattoo removed, and gave him some time frame in which to get it done. He apparently didn’t do it. His problem. This is part of the office “dress code”. It’s fully within the department’s rights to enforce it.]

    That’s exactly the situation. He wants to wear long shirts and the wrist brace and the Sheriff wants him to remove the tattoo, period. It sounds like he has a better chance with the quick termination problem. It looks like it should have gone before a review board first.

    But what about his freedom of speech rights if he’d gotten the tattoo after he was hired? Or anyone else in any other job for that matter? I’m never sure where the limits are – or if there are any.

  11. Very few outfits more uptight and conservative than cops. He knew the rules and ignored them. His stupidvisors were lax in making them stick, but that’s no excuse. I find any tattoos that make a statement objectionable on someone in authority.

  12. Revolution

    They now say because he agreed to have the tattoo removed if they hired him. I don’t know if they have any signed statement to back that up.

  13. Piggott declined to confirm whether he signed any documentation when hired about agreeing to have his tattoo removed within a certain time frame.

    Out of the story, me think that if this were the case that he would have shouted from the roof top. The policy as stated was implemented in 08. I am unsure when he was hired but he was there for only a year.

    He states that the other deputy’s are backing him up. Hmm, select the rules you want to abide by. If he was hired and was on a probationary period and the rules changed he might have a better argument.

    The other argument would be that if he was on a probationary and when he was hired the policy was in effect and he agreed to remove it in order to keep his employment.

  14. I have many tattoos. If the guy was willing to cover them up and burn up in 90 degree weather with long sleeves then there should have been no problem. I think there was some kind of dislike issue between this guy and a supervisor.

    I know one day i will have wrinkly skin and my tats will fade, i dont care. I am married and i will have no reason to impress anyone when im 60. I will have my wife and she will love me for my ehart and personallity and not my wrinkly faded tattoos.

  15. Everyone is making assumptions that he was on probation or that they hired him if he would get the tattoo removed, and ive been through the interview process for the police force and they ask if you have any tattoos and ask to see arms to make sure and legs and on top of that the tattoo that he has is not racial or offensive or anything like that. So i am happy that he won and yes people have the right of speech and if not then what the hell is the constitution for. Thank you Christopher Piggott for your service and standing up for your rights.

  16. This is the one of dumbest things I have ever heard. So a guy serves his country. Gets inked to commemorate his ordeal and then is fired for it? WTF? Really? We owe our soldiers respect, this tattoo is not crude, racist, bigoted or distateful. Let the guy express himself; we owe it to them, our servicemen and women, to listen to their stories and be supportive when they need it.

    Sounds like he didn’t even get to explain himself in a hearing. Remember, he was defending our right to make opinions and express them as we do. I have spoken to wounded servicemen, one guy with schrapnel in his groin. These guys have seen horror we cannot imagine. We should shut our fat consumer mouths and help those who have served our great nation. Not fire them cause our personal feelings about how he looked in a summer uniform. I don’t care if he is White, Gay, Straight, Black, Female, tattoed or pierced it don’t matter he served our nation and deserve our respect. His tattoo was not disrespectful to anyone as I can see it.

    Give him his job back! Thanks Mr Piggott for your service.

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