HERNANDO, Miss. -- Imagine being told by your boss that you had to change the way you look.
That’s exactly what one Mid-South waiter – who lost an eye in an accident – says happened to him.
And now he feels he’s being discriminated against.
It has been five years since Jared Ellis damaged his right eye, just days before heading off to join the U.S. Marine Corp.
"We were just shooting BB guns and one of the BBs bounced off a tree limb or something," he said. "I don’t know what happened, and it came in and hit me in the top of my eye."
Five surgeries later, his eye couldn’t be saved. And just like that, his dreams of being a Marine were dashed.
"It devastated me," Ellis said.
For a while, he wore a prosthetic eye, but says it was uncomfortable and caused constant headaches.
So he eventually decided not to wear it at all.
"I finally came to a point where, this is me," Ellis said. "This is the way I look. You can love me or hate me, but this is my face. This is who I am."
For the past month, the married father of two says he waited tables at the new restaurant, Steak by Melissa in Southaven.
It's one of four restaurants owned by Pete and Melissa Cookston, including Memphis BBQ Co., in Horn Lake.
But Friday before his shift, Ellis says his manager told him the Cookstons wanted him to either wear a prosthetic or an eyepatch.
"'That’s what they asked me to tell you to try to cover up your eye,'" Ellis said the manager told him. "And when he said it, it was just, I can’t explain the way it felt."
WREG reached out to the Cookstons for comment, and Pete called back a short time later.
While he didn’t want to go on camera or give a statement, he adamantly denied any allegations of discrimination.
But he wouldn’t say why Ellis was asked to cover his eye in the first place.
WREG's Nina Harrelson asked Cookston if there was a regulation in place that might keep Ellis from serving food, or if there had been any customer complaints, but he wouldn't say.
Ellis said there was never any mention to him of any customers complaining. And now he wants to send a message to others in his shoes.
"It’s about everybody who’s ever looked in the mirror or had somebody tell them there’s something wrong with the way they looked," he said. "There’s nothing wrong with you. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise."
Ellis said he didn’t wear a prosthetic eye or eye patch to his interview for that position or at any point during the time he worked there.
He also told WREG he enjoyed his job, but quit on the spot Friday when he was confronted by that manager.