Bikini baristas in a Washington city were banned from wearing pasties and g-strings to work, and a U.S. district court ruled that it was unconstitutional.
The judgment centered on dress code laws the city of Everett passed in 2017, which the workers say clearly targeted the businesses where they worked.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez found the dress code, which required all “quick service facility” workers to wear shorts and T-shirts that would cover their midriffs, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Washington State Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it targets women’s clothing and not men’s.
The court found that the dress code was shaped by gender-based discrimination, according to the ruling.
The judge also agreed that the dress codes could risk subjecting the women to arbitrary enforcement by police.
“Assuming the owners of bikini barista stands are unable or unwilling to enforce this dress code, at some point law enforcement will be asked to measure exposure of skin by some method,” Martinez wrote in the Oct. 19 ruling. “This ‘encourages a humiliating, intrusive, and demoralizing search on women, disempowering them and stripping them of their freedom.’”
A representative for the city of Everett said the city is assessing the court’s decision and will determine next steps in the next several days.
The representative also sent McClatchy News an investigative report from the police department that ultimately argued a dress code would cut down on crimes linked to the bikini barista stands, including prostitution, lewd conduct and sexual assault.
The workers had argued that places such as McDonald’s and Starbucks attract more crime than the bikini barista stands, and that targeted regulation was unconstitutional because “bikini-barista stands are not the primary cause of serious crime,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2017 against the city and the judge’s recent ruling.
“The City’s bare bones appeal to community standards and protecting women from exploitation are rooted in exactly such impermissible ‘romantic paternalism toward women or sex stereotyping,” the plaintiffs argued. “It is the embodiment of the belief that women must dress a certain way to avoid exciting men to sexual misconduct. Or that society should be able to tell women — but not men — to cover up certain body parts because others might find those parts sexual. Those beliefs are rooted in impermissible stereotypes about what is not proper dress and behavior for one’s sex.”
The judge sided with the city when it came to this line of argument, saying “protecting public sensibilities serves an important basis for government action.”
However, those working in the profession are predominantly women, especially in Everett. The judge found it would be unlikely that these rules would be applied to men’s attire.
At least one coffee stand in Seattle employs hunky men instead of women. Dreamboyz Espresso opened in 2019 to replace the bikini baristas Ladybug Espresso shop, McClatchy News previously reported.
The men bared not only their midriffs, but worked while entirely topless.
According to the ruling, the dress code “clearly treats women differently than men by banning a wide variety of women’s clothing, not just pasties and g-strings, or bikinis.”
The judge ultimately decided the city didn’t prove how this “disparate treatment of women” was meant to achieve the stated goals of the dress code.
U.S. District Court granted a motion for summary judgment on the ruling and directed the city of Everett to meet with plaintiffs within 14 days to discuss next steps.
On Tuesday night at Hillbilly Espresso, a barista dressed as Lily Munster told the Everett Herald she was relieved to hear of the court’s ruling. She told the outlet the dress code ordinance enacted “weird” rules that made her and other employees feel uncomfortable.
“I think this protects our safety from law enforcement touching our body,” Emma Dilemma told the outlet. “Who’s approving my outfit? Is it my female boss or some random dude cop that I don’t know? I don’t want them having to stick a ruler next to my body.”
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