Mormon Missionary Training, Insufficiently Feminine Haircuts, and the First Amendment
From Markowski v. BYU, decided yesterday by Judge Jill Parrish (D. Utah):
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Church”) is a religious organization with its headquarters in Utah. One of the Church’s “most recognized characteristics” is its missionary program. Church members, typically under the age of twenty-five, can serve a mission for eighteen to twenty-four months, during which they share the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church. Prior to beginning their mission, future missionaries spend a short period of time at a Missionary Training Center to learn how to effectively teach Church doctrine.
BYU is a university “founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” BYU’s mission includes “making its resources available to the Church when called upon to do so.” As part of this mission, BYU operates a Missionary Training Center (“MTC”) in Provo, Utah. The MTC employs many BYU students who assist in preparing missionaries for their missions.
On November 6, 2017, BYU hired Plaintiff Ashtin Markowski (“Markowski”) as a trainer at the MTC’s Online Teaching Center. Markowski trained full-time missionaries in how to respond to online inquiries about the Church and how to use their social media to have discussions with people interested in learning more about the Church. Markowski also piloted new online engagement projects.
All MTC employees, including Markowski, must comply with the Church’s Missionary Dress and Grooming Standards. On April 3, 2020, Markowski cut her hair short. Six weeks later, Markowski’s supervisors informed her that they considered her haircut to be extreme and distracting. Her supervisors informed her that her haircut was “not feminine enough” and “was too masculine.” They also complained that her eyebrows were “too firm.” Markowski indicated that she did not want her haircut to jeopardize her ability to work at the MTC and agreed to grow her hair out. The next day, Markowski’s supervisors fired her….
First, Markowski accuses BYU of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. Second, Markowski also claims that BYU retaliated against her for complaining to supervisors that BYU applied a double standard in deeming her hairstyle “extreme” while allowing male employees to wear bleached hair….
Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of sex. Discrimination on the basis of sex includes “failing to fulfill traditional sex stereotypes.” Th
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