Starbucks employee claims he was fired because of his tattoos

Starbucks employee fired for tattoosHe'd worked in the Starbucks in Sherman, Texas -- an hour due north of Dallas -- for seven years, and shift-manager Benjamin Amos wouldn't have been blamed for thinking that his tattoos were a non-issue. It hadn't just been the cultural mainstreaming of tattoos in the past decade; the popularity of the A&E television series Inked in 2005 and 2006 was just one indication; but he was hired with the tattoos firmly in place and he says he'd worked, covering them per dress code, for so many years.

Last February, however, it suddenly became a problem and, say filings with the United States District Court Eastern District of Texas, and the store manager told him the regional and district managers didn't like the tattoos. When he refused to resign, according to Amos, she fired him -- later phoning him to apologize for the poor handling of his termination.

Amos, a year later, is suing Starbucks, insisting that the store, regional and district managers violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His case rests on the female employees in the store who have tattoos yet still kept their jobs. He's seeking damages for mental anguish, attorney's fees, costs of court, prejudgment and post-judgment interest and punitive damages.

It's certainly the case that male tattoos are typically considered to be more threatening and aggressive than female tattoos -- which are considered more decorative and, if that's your sort of thing, sensual. On the face (and not having seen any of these employees' tattoos) this case looks like a textbook example of gender discrimination. If tattoos are verboten (and if they are, Starbucks is going to have to let go a rather large percentage of its work force -- right?) for men, they should be for women also; otherwise it's a case-by-case judgment call and the potential for misuse (and other sorts of illegal discrimination) is enormous.

It's an interesting case, and worth watching, especially for other victims of tattoo layoffs. In a tight job market, it's a shame to have to resort to giving your employees extreme scrutiny to weed out those who've made choices that millions of baristas before them probably have, too. And I'd hate to think photos like this would be fireable offenses, wouldn't you?

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