Cosmetology and Deuteronomy

A demoted cosmetologist filed a lawsuit on Monday in federal court, claiming that his employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by requiring him to wear makeup as part of his job training. The employer requires trainees to apply makeup to each other, because "makeup artists should know how certain products feel if they are going to use them on others." Plaintiff Barry Jones—who since 2011 "has been a licensed esthetician and has operated his own beauty salon"—started working for M.A.C. Cosmetics last year as a Retail Makeup Artist.

Jones is a Christian and an elder in the Church of God in Christ, and he says that wearing makeup violates his religious beliefs. In particular, he invokes Deuteronomy 22:5, which states: "A woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God." Jones also alleges that he "is a married man," but he doesn't say why that matters for his case.

Jones may have an uphill battle in court. Title VII does require that an employer provide religious accommodations when doing so would not burden its business or other employees, but at first blush Jones's employer seems to have a reasonable interest in training its cosmetologists to better serve their customers. Of course, if a reasonable accommodation is available, then Jones should receive it. But his complaint is conspicuously silent on what that accommodation should look like—in other words, what alternative method the employer should use to ensure that Jones gets the necessary training. He alleges only that he "sought an accommodation which included not wearing makeup" and claims—without any detail—that "[t]here exists alternative practices without a similarly undesirable discriminatory effect that Defendant could employ that would also [serve] Defendant's interests." But Jones doesn't identify any alternative training methods; and as a licensed esthetician, he would presumably be in a position to identify those alternatives if they actually existed.

Finally, Jones's lawsuit smacks of sex-stereotyping. He claims that the company's training requirement "has a disproportionately adverse effect on male Christians who [believe] that they cannot wear makeup or resemble a woman." But as Gene Simmons or anyone who's been on TV can tell you, makeup isn't just for women. And if the company applied its training requirement to women only—on the theory that makeup is inherently feminine—then it might be violating Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination, which also prohibits sex stereotyping.

Needless to say, this lawsuit is something that you can't makeup.

The Detroit Free Press has more coverage, and you can read the full complaint here.

(h/t Religion Clause)

Greg Lipper (@theglipper) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United.