Bikini baristas sue Everett, say dress code unfair

EVERETT — A group of bikini baristas filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday, accusing the city of Everett of violating their civil rights.

The litigation is over the city’s recently passed ordinances that established a dress code for quick-service restaurants, including coffee shops. The baristas claim the ordinances unfairly target women.

The City Council approved the new rules in August, citing the criminal investigations in recent years that found some barista huts were operating as drive-thru brothels. The dress code requires employees at fast food restaurants, food trucks and coffee stands to wear a minimum of tank tops and shorts.

The city also expanded its definition of misdemeanor lewd conduct to include certain areas of exposed skin. The target was not traditional beachwear but G-string panties, stickers and body paints often worn at bikini stands, officials said.

The 23-page complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It alleges that baristas would be subjected to humiliating inspections to measure their breasts and buttocks to determine compliance. The bikini is a unique tool, protected by the First Amendment, to empower employees in their conversations with customers, the complaint says.

“The bikini is an invitation to discuss. It makes the customers more open to be themselves because they see us as individuals. They see us as open and expressive in our bikinis and they feel they can open up,” lawyers quoted a barista saying.

The bikini baristas say the city is over-sexualizing their profession. Wearing more clothing could cause them to forfeit a significant portion of their income, they allege.

City officials on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks damages of an undisclosed amount.

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

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