Nonbinary KSU worker says lipstick part of reason for his firing

Stuart Morrison, a former Kennesaw State University employee, says he was fired from his job at the bookstore because he wore bright lipstick while on the job. Morrison, who identifies as nonbinary, says he wears lipstick to express his gender.

Credit: Stuart Morrison

Credit: Stuart Morrison

A former Kennesaw State University employee says he was fired from his job at the school’s bookstore in part because he wore brightly colored lipstick while at work.

Stuart Morrison, who identifies as nonbinary and prefers the pronouns he/him or they/them, said he was informed March 3 that his employment with the university had been severed after violating rules in KSU’s employee handbook that govern personal appearance.

Morrison said he had a meeting Feb. 25 with a supervisor because of “complaints about your unprofessional appearance” and was asked to refrain from wearing lipstick on the job. Morrison had worn black, bright blue or bright green lipstick while working and continued to wear it after the meeting.

“I was wearing them, in part, to express that I’m nonbinary,” Morrison said.

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In his letter of termination dated March 3, Morrison was told to “tone down the lipstick color and discontinue wearing black, bright blue and bright green lipstick.” The letter states those colors are considered “unprofessional” due to his position as lead retail associate.

Kennesaw State University spokeswoman Tammy DeMel said the school will not comment on the Morrison’s firing because it is a personnel matter.

According to the university's employee handbook section on personal appearance, the language notes that it's "difficult" to have a uniform dress code, but adds employees are "required to dress in appropriate attire and to behave in a professional, business-like manner."

Morrison, who said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses that can contribute to memory loss, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he also had issues with tardiness, needing time off work and forgetting his identification badge.

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According to the letter, Morrison was cited for those issues and not following proper protocols 18 times between October and February. He said those reason were enough to fire him, so adding the lipstick issue felt unnecessary. The meeting over the lipstick is listed as the final bullet point in the termination letter.

“Being fired is not a fun thing in general, but it felt discriminatory,” Morrison said. “The fact that they chose to use that excuse just feels wrong.”

Morrison, 30, graduated in December from KSU with a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies. He said he filed a complaint with KSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, but has not been contacted by the office.

Dr. Michael Shutt, southern regional director for Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that fights for legal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, said employees have “long been protected from discrimination” because they do not conform to gender stereotypes. He said the organization years ago won a case that confirmed “that this protection applies to transgender people.”

“The law is clear that this kind of discrimination has no place in the workplace,” Shutt said.

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