Amelia Powell, who has worked as a bikini barista, talks to reporters. (Rikki King / The Herald)

Amelia Powell, who has worked as a bikini barista, talks to reporters. (Rikki King / The Herald)

Judge critical of both sides’ arguments in Everett bikini barista case

She will determine whether the city’s dress code suppresses free speech — or deters crime.

SEATTLE — The city of Everett says serving coffee in a g-string is a gateway to sex work and exploitation.

Bikini baristas counter their outfits are works of art. They say they’re using their First Amendment rights to share positive messages about their bodies while they earn a living.

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman at a hearing Tuesday raised questions critical of both sides’ arguments. The bikini baristas want her to throw out Everett’s new rules that ban their business model. The city decided earlier this year that workers in coffee shops and other quick-service restaurants must wear a minimum of tank tops and shorts.

The city has said it won’t enforce the rules pending the outcome of the court case. Pechman expects to issue an order in the next couple of weeks.

Everett may need to rewrite the ordinances to more directly target the business model, rather than the clothing, the judge said. She suggested other approaches, such as requiring the stands to record customers and their license plates, or to install better lighting.

Clothing can be linked to free speech, such as the pink knit hats that became popular with protesters after the 2016 presidential election, Pechman said. The public’s ideas around decency aren’t static, she said.

“The mores change,” she said. “Why does the city of Everett want to change what the mores are?”

Yet the judge also didn’t seem to accept wholesale the plaintiffs’ claims they primarily are focused on art and expression. If that were so, the baristas wouldn’t mind if tips were outlawed, she said, asking, “Is it the message or the money?”

In addition, the judge questioned whether the city’s ordinances are too vague. Some of the terms used to describe body parts aren’t in the dictionary, and a diagram might be needed to determine compliance, she said.

Derek Newman, an attorney representing the baristas, agreed.

“It’s not always clear where a breast begins and ends,” he said.

Everett has turned to civil measures to target misbehavior by baristas and customers because the criminal investigations exhaust police resources, said Sarah Johnson, an attorney hired by the city.

A  bikini hut is the drive-thru version of a strip club, she said. The women are isolated, nearly naked and motivated to maximize their income, she said. 

“The attire here is the same …,” she said. “Changing the clothing will eliminate that conduct.”

“I don’t see any similarity,” Newman said.

About a half-dozen baristas attended Tuesday’s hearing, including Amelia Powell, who told reporters the job is a better option for women than being a dancer or an escort. The pay has allowed her to work fewer hours and to improve her grades, she said.

“It comes down to the issue of economic opportunity,” she said.

The judge’s order is expected to say whether Everett can enforce the rules for the time being. Future hearings are likely for other contested issues in the case.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Lake Stevens High School graduate Madelynn Coe will be attending Northeastern University and participating in a study abroad program in Greece her first semester. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Madelynn Coe spent senior year helping others learn online

The pandemic changed everything for the class of 2021. For one young woman, it was a time to give back.

Jackson Emerick, 4, of Shoreline, tosses candy out to crowds lining Main Street in downtown Edmonds during the Edmonds Kind of Fourth Parade on Tuesday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Edmonds needs entries for July 4 parade or it may not happen

“An Edmonds Kind of 4th” parade is at risk of being cancelled if there aren’t more entries by June 21.

Supporters march Wednesday afternoon across from Providence Medical Center in Everett on May 5, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Everett nurses threaten to strike as contract talks stall

Union leaders say Providence’s latest offer includes low wages and cuts to benefits and paid leave.

A house fire displaced seven people and killed one dog Saturday, June 12, 2021, on Chain Lake Road in Monroe. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
7 displaced as family escapes Monroe house fire, dog killed

People honked to alert three occupants of the home to flames Saturday morning.

Yince Loh, MD, Neurointerventionalist, is part of Providence Regional Medical Center’s new 24/7 endovascular thrombectomy program for acute stroke patients, providing exceptional expertise and care right here at home.
Time matters: Everett gains close-to-home care for stroke patients

If you’re experiencing a stroke, time matters – the sooner you receive… Continue reading

DanVo'nique Bletson-Reed, president of the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee, was given the Everett Community College Diversity and Equity Center's Malcolm X Day 2021 Community Awareness Award. (Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee)
EvCC recognizes SnoCo Black Heritage Committee leader

The Everett Community College Diversity and Equity Center bestowed DanVo’nique Bletson-Reed with… Continue reading

Detectives investigate killing of woman, 23, in Smokey Point

She had “obvious signs of trauma,” according to the sheriff’s office. A 25-year-old man was arrested.

Woman injured after shooting at south Everett 7-Eleven

She was taken to a hospital and was expected to survive. The suspects fled the scene.

Mariner High School graduate Careana Willis raises her diploma in the air Saturday as she walks back to her seat during graduation at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Graduate celebrates her accomplishment

Mariner High School graduate Careana Willis raises her diploma in the air… Continue reading

Most Read