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“Bikini Baristas” are Forced to Cover Up: Is this a Freedom of Expression Dispute?

July 17th, 2019 Emma O'Connor

Bikini Baristas

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled to enforce the City of Everett, Washington’s dress code law and amendment to the Lewd Conduct Ordinances. The amendment requires employees of “quick service areas” to cover minimum body area (breasts, torso, and top three inches of leg below the buttocks).  It was designed to target a rise in Washington’s bikini baristas stands, a recent trend spanning numerous mid-western states. At these stands, women wear lingerie, thongs, and skimpy swimwear while they serve coffee at roadside huts. Hillbilly Hotties, a local bikini barista stop, challenged the ordinance as unconstitutionally vague and a violation of their employees’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.

Bikini Baristas and Body Positivity?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a person of average intelligence can understand the ordinance’s terms, so it cannot be considered unconstitutionally ambiguous.  The bikini baristas argued that their attire was a form of expression because it empowered them as women and conveyed a message of body positivity. However, the court found that wearing G-strings and pasties in close proximity to predominantly male customers did not necessarily convey the bikini baristas’ message of female empowerment.  One circuit judge said that the message seemed more like “I’m sexually available.” The court added that they have a right to enforce a dress code to combat illegal sexual conduct. After all, bikini barista stands have a notorious history of sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and prostitution.

A Bikini Barista’s Thoughts

Amanda Powell, a bikini barista at Hillbilly Hotties, says she enjoys the money, freedom, and confidence that her job affords her.  She thinks she “should be able to choose to work [there] as [she] pleases.” Powell is a 24-year old student of international relations and political science in Seattle that used to juggle two retail jobs and her college classes.  Now she works 25 hours a week, makes more money than many of her friends in full-time positions, and is able to “focus on school.” She gets $100 of tips a day as well as Washington’s minimum wage of $11.50. 

 Powell also says she loves what she does.  “I’ve always had a lot of issues with my self-confidence,” she says. “I struggled with eating disorders and went through years of therapy trying to fix my issues. Working here for six years has done more for me mentally and emotionally than years of therapy ever did.”  While she says that her customers are, for the most part, “normal everyday guys,” the most difficult aspect of her job is dealing with stalkers, men who expose themselves, and customers who become aggressive when she won’t meet up with them after work.

Seek Legal Assistance

If you are the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination, the Working Solutions Law Firm, located in New York City, can assist you. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.