The right not to make a nuisance of yourself

The SE Texas Record Feb. 6, 2010, 2:00pm

We won't deny the mysterious appeal -- to their possessors, at least – of body piercings, tattoos, and multi-colored, mile-high mohawks, but it's hardly reasonable for ardent exhibitionists to expect admiration from a wide audience.

Some people just don't like piercings, tattoos, and extreme hair, and that's their privilege.

The excessively self-adorned may think any dislike of their appearance is a problem only for the disliker. Often, however, it's a bigger problem, as when employers perceive or foresee a decline in patronage from customers who prefer not to have their shopping and dining experiences marred by aggressive bodily ornamentation. Then, those nose studs, tattoo splashes, tongue rings and porcupine haircuts can have costly consequences.

That appears to be the case for former shift manager Benjamin Amos, who has filed suit against Starbucks in the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas. Amos claims he was terminated because of his tattoos – in violation, he argues, of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

(Where tattoos come in, we're not sure.)

Having worked at the Sherman Starbucks for seven years, Amos is seeking damages for mental anguish and punitive damages. He asserts that he had tattoos when he was hired, that he kept them covered while working as required, and that other tattooed employees remain on the job.

One can't help wondering if Amos' tattoos were qualitatively more offensive than those of other decorated employees. Or, if he had more of them after seven years than he did at the outset. Or, how managers were able to spot them if he kept them covered. Or, if other reasons for his termination are elsewhere.

The facts will come out in the trial. And maybe Amos will explain how his right to altered pigmentation trumps the right of Starbucks to enforce minimum standards of dress and deportment for its employees.

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