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Waitress claims wrongful termination over skimpy uniform refusal

“She didn’t apply to Hooters and she didn’t apply to a bar in Vegas,” the employment law attorney representing an LA-area waitress told reporters. “I mean, it was only toward the end of her employment she and other women were asked to wear these provocative outfits.”

The waitress is suing her former employer, a bar and restaurant in the fancy Westwood neighborhood of the city, along with the general manager and the restaurant’s co-owner, for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Her complaint is that her bosses, worried about declining business, started requiring the female wait staff to wear sexy outfits — outfits which included short plaid skirts secured only by a strip of Velcro.

“I was appalled, I was offended, I kind of hoped it was a joke,” the waitress explained to a reporter. “They had a couple of ideas and this was one of them that they thought would increase foot traffic or something like that.”

The woman, who had worked at the restaurant since 2007, refused to wear the new uniform that she felt objectified women. The sexy new outfit, she says in her lawsuit, exposed the wait staff to potential sexual harassment and abuse by patrons, including the possibility that the Velcro skirt closure could be pulled by a customer and result in an exceedingly embarrassing situation.

When she complained to management, they did withdraw the requirement that she wear the disputed uniform, but they cut her hours back so dramatically that she could no longer make a living.

An attorney for the bar says that this was not a case of wrongful termination because the waitress quit; she wasn’t fired. In employment law, however, the fact that the woman quit her job does not necessarily mean she wasn’t wrongfully terminated. If an employer makes it so hard for an employee to continue working that he or she feels forced to quit, courts can consider the employer’s actions a form of firing called “constructive termination.”

She is seeking an unspecified amount in lost wages and as compensation for the stress she was forced to endure as a result of the situation.

In a tough economy, it can be tempting to resort to “tried-and-true” methods to bring in business. It’s no secret that sex sells. Many of these traditional methods, however, are exploitative of the employee and can easily give rise to employment lawsuits like this one.

What do you think? Do bars and restaurants have the right to make female staff members wear revealing clothing in order to promote sales?

Source: The Bottom Line on, “Skimpy uniform has LA waitress suing employer,” Robert Kovacik and Bill French, NBC Los Angeles, June 27, 2012

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