Bank of America Flag Controversy Illustrates Dangers of Blind Obedience


Last week, a Bank of America branch in Gaffney, SC stirred up controversy by removing American flags from an adjacent sidewalk. The bank later returned the flags, which were intended for a funeral procession for a fallen Marine. But the city isn’t about to forgive the bank.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal has more:

The controversy developed last Tuesday as plans were being made for the body of Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Fowlkes to be returned to Gaffney. Fowlkes died Sept. 10 in a hospital in Germany of injuries he received in Afghanistan the previous week when a roadside bomb exploded.

Brenda Earls of Gaffney said she put flags on her street, York Drive, where Fowlkes’ grandparents, Ruth and John Fowlkes, also live. Earls also placed the small flags along the sidewalk of several businesses on Floyd Baker Boulevard, including Bank of America. She said the flags were on the street right-of-way and not the businesses’ property.

Earls said she noticed flags in front of the bank were gone as she continued her distributions and was approached by branch Manager Brandy Tate, who told her the bank’s policy did not allow flags for fear of “offending a customer.”

Earls said Tate told her the flags that were removed were inside the bank, and Earls should pick them up if she wanted them back. After a couple of hours, the bank’s corporate office issued a statement that removal of the flags had resulted from a breakdown in communications.

The bank returned the flags for an initial procession on Wednesday, then again for the actual funeral that Friday. It also issued a formal apology:

“We want to ensure the community knows how deeply proud we are of the men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. The bank does fly the American Flag at our locations throughout the country and flags were displayed in front of our banking center in Gaffney the evening prior to our dedicated Marine returning home. We deeply apologize for any misunderstandings. “

But the controversy hasn’t died down. Today, the Cherokee County Council–Gaffney is located in Cherokee County–voted to close its Bank of America accounts.

It sounds like the B of A branch manager was operating under the same mentality as the Burger King manager who kicked out a baby earlier this year for not wearing shoes. That is, he let fear of corporate repercussions override common sense. He probably thought he would get in trouble if he didn’t strictly obey company guidelines.

The problem was his narrow-mindedness. If he had seen the situation from the town’s perspective, he would have realized that removing flags could potentially harm the bank more than his blind obedience of policies. Not knowing more about the branch manager’s situation–perhaps an event or situation induced him to act fearfully–I think that B of A would do well to put him through a course on seeing the bigger picture.

I don’t think this warrants him being fired, though. The town is already punishing him enough.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.