On 31 August 2016 Facebook user Tom Michael published the following status update, claiming that his son quit his job at a Marshall, Michigan, AutoZone outlet because a district manager had ordered him to remove a displayed American flag from the store for "diversity" reasons:
My son was at work today at Auto Zone in Marshall, Michigan. His district manger came in and gave him a "one year" appreciation letter. He also told him to take down the American flag that was displayed in the window. My son asked why. He said "diversity". My son quit on the spot. He was the store manager.
I am so tired of this bullshit. My personal boycott of Auto Zone is just me getting started.
Michael included the above-reproduced photograph of the flag the district manager purportedly demanded the former's son remove in the cause of "diversity." Visible building numbers match the address of an AutoZone store on West Michigan Avenue in Marshall. We attempted to contact the store via the number provided by the chain for that location, but the call did not go through.
Numerous social media users flooded the AutoZone corporate Facebook page to complain about the purported flag removal:
Twitter users also directed questions about the flag rumor to @AutoZone:
@autozone I hear the district manager in the Marshall, MI area is ordering the removal of American flags. That will cost you my business
— BRADLEY WATTS (@ProudMiGuardDad) September 2, 2016
— Mona Lisa Vito (@zendalaimama) September 1, 2016
AutoZone didn't address Facebook comments, Twitter tweets, or other public comments asking about whether a district manager ordered the removal of an American flag in Marshall. However, Michigan television station WWMT spoke with the employee, Jarrett Michael, as well as a representative for AutoZone. Michael and local residents took issue with the manager's purported directive:
“With all that’s going on in the country, you’re gonna say the American flag has to be taken down because of diversity? C’mon,” said Michael.
Michael calls himself a proud American, his father is a long-time Army active combat veteran who posted what happened on Facebook.
That prompted an eruption of anger. People blasting AutoZone for what happened and many calling for a boycott.
“I won’t go to AutoZone,” said Tom Ackworth. “I’m done with AutoZone if this is the way they are, a lot of people won’t be going to AutoZone.”
Bill Thick, the local VFW Post Commander, organized a protest in front of the store this weekend, asking people to bring their own flags.
“I would like AutoZone to know there’s nothing wrong with patriotism,” said Thick, “we have our country because of patriots.”
The station sought comment from AutoZone and received an entirely different explanation of the dispute from their end. While Michael asserted that the manager vaguely cited "diversity" as a reason not to display the flag, a representative for AutoZone maintained that the banner was duct-taped to the door in an improper display. Michael shared an image of the displayed flag in his initial 31 August 2016 Facebook post comments, in which it appeared the flag was indeed duct-taped to suction cups:
The AutoZone representative told WWMT that a proper flag display unit was being installed for use at the West Michigan Avenue location on 2 September 2016:
The American flag was improperly displayed in our store’s window, duct taped to the glass. We are in the process of securing a pole and floor stand so the flag can be properly displayed in our store.