Melissa Stone and her partner Chase McClure were boarding the No. 7 Empire Builder train from Chicago to Seattle on Friday afternoon when a sleeping-car attendant asked Stone to remove her small white pin, which displayed a slogan Hillary Clinton used in her presidential campaign.
The couple was traveling to Seattle to celebrate their 10th anniversary and had planned to visit Twin Peaks filming locations. They said the incident made them feel "painfully unwelcome" on the 45-hour train ride.
"When she said it I was stunned and thought she misunderstood the pin," McClure told DNAinfo. McClure wrote in a Facebook post that they got the employee's name. "We just talked to her and she is actually a very nice lady. She explained that this is a rule that Amtrak has passed down to attendants to prevent fights, which apparently happens. It's still unacceptable and infuriating, but she seemed sure in herself that this is Amtrak policy."
He added: "Important to note that if someone in line in front of us was told to remove their MAGA hat, we’d be just as pissed off right now."
Stone and McClure then called Amtrak's corporate headquarters. "I’ve spoken to several people at Amtrak customer service and they assure me this is not their policy," Stone tells Refinery29. "I have accepted apologies from the company and the train attendant personally. They further assured me that the train crew would have further training to address this incident."
Amtrak should not be limiting the expression of their passengers.
Ed Yohnka, ACLU
Spokesperson Christina Leeds confirmed to Refinery29 that Amtrak officials apologized to Stone for the incident. "We don’t comment on employee discipline," she says. "An Amtrak manager apologized to the passengers: They can certainly wear such a button, as any passengers are free to wear political badges or buttons. The train attendant misunderstood the policy about causing disruptions on our train and mistakenly expanded it to political speech. We are working to remind our employees of our standard of conduct."
We asked Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy at the ACLU of Illinois, whether a passenger could hypothetically bring a lawsuit in a case like this. He says that since Amtrak is technically part of the federal government (although it's operated as a for-profit company), it's entirely possible. "There are some technical issues that might arise in the course of a lawsuit, but they certainly would be justified in bringing the lawsuit," he explains. "The short answer is that Amtrak should not be limiting the expression of their passengers."