34 Case Problem with Sample Answer

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34–7. Case Problem with Sample Answer

Kimberly Cloutier began working at the Costco store in West Springfield, Massachusetts, in July 1997. Cloutier had multiple earrings and four tattoos, but no facial piercings. In June 1998, Costco promoted Cloutier to cashier. Over the next two years, she engaged in various forms of body modification, including facial piercing and cutting. In March 2001, Costco revised its dress code to prohibit all facial jewelry, aside from earrings. Cloutier was told that she would have to remove her facial jewelry. She asked for a complete exemption from the code, asserting that she was a member of the Church of Body Modification and her eyebrow piercing was part of her religion. She was told to remove the jewelry, cover it, or go home. She went home, and was later discharged for her absence. Cloutier filed a suit in a federal district court against Costco, alleging religious discrimination in violation of Title VII. Does an employer have any obligation to accommodate its employees’ religious practices? If so, to what extent? How should the court rule in this case? Discuss. [Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 390 F.3d 126 (1st Cir. 2004)]

34–7. Answer

The court granted Costco’s motion for summary judgment. Cloutier appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s judgment. The appellate court acknowledged that under Title VII, “an employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to resolve a conflict between an employee’s sincerely held religious belief and a condition of employment, unless such an accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer’s business.” An accommodation constitutes an undue hard­ship if it imposes more than a minimal cost on an employer. “It is axiomatic that, for bet­ter or for worse, employees reflect on their employers. This is particularly true of em­ployees who regularly interact with customers, as Cloutier did in her cashier position. Even if Cloutier did not personally receive any complaints about her appearance, her fa­cial jewelry influenced Costco’s public image and, in Costco’s calculation, detracted from its professionalism.” The court emphasized that “the only accommodation Cloutier con­siders reasonable, a blanket exemption from the no-facial-jewelry policy, would impose an undue hardship on Costco. In such a situation, an employer has no obligation to offer an accommodation before taking an adverse employment action.”

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