Ex-Costco Employee Sues over Eyebrow Ring

October 17, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Massachusetts woman fired from a warehouse store chain for wearing an eyebrow ring, which she claimed was a statement of her religious beliefs, has filed a federal discrimination suit against her former employer.

Kimberly Cloutier’s US District Court lawsuit in Springfield, Massachusetts follows a finding earlier this year by the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) that Costco probably violated religious discrimination laws when Cloutier was fired because of the eyebrow ring in July 2001, according to a news story in the Springfield (Mass.) Union-News.

The EEOC determined that Cloutier’s eyebrow ring qualified as a religious practice under federal law and that Costco refused to accommodate her circumstances.

Plaintiff: Piercings a Show of Faith

According to the Union-News story, Cloutier belongs to the Church of Body Modification. Her piercings, including several earrings in each ear and a lip ring, show her faith and help unite her mind, body and soul.

“It’s not just an aesthetic thing,” Cloutier told the Union-News. “It’s your body; you’re taking control of it.”

For its part, the company contends it was not acting illegally when it required Cloutier to either take out the eyebrow ring or cover it while she was at work.

“Costco was acting in the best interest of its members and customers,” Costco attorney Lynn. Kappelman told the newspaper. Kappelman said Costco bars facial piercings “in the same way that we require our employees to be sanitary and clean and neat in our dress.”

Although reluctant to call Costco’s objection to facial piercings a hygiene matter, Kappelman told the Union-News, “hygiene could be an issue if an employee had numerous piercings or open sores.”

Cloutier told the newspaper that she wore her eyebrow ring on the job at Costco for about 2½ years before she was fired for refusing to comply with a dress code issued in spring 2001. The dress code barred facial and tongue jewelry and visible tattoos, along with sweatpants, jeans with holes and open-toed shoes, the Union-News said.

A company can lawfully refuse to accommodate a worker’s religious practices if “undue hardship” or extraordinary costs would result, but in Cloutier’s case, the EEOC found no evidence her eyebrow ring would create hardship, the newspaper report said.