Bikini Baristas Win Case Against City Barring Them From Provocative Attire
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Bikini baristas in Everett, Washington, won their long-standing case against a city ordinance that would bar them from baring skin while bearing beverages.

While the court rejected a claim the city law violated the First Amendment rights of Hillbilly Hotties staffers, saying that serving coffee while nearly naked is not protected expression, it found the ordinance created different standards for men and women.

“This Ordinance clearly treats women differently than men by banning a wide variety of women’s clothing, not just pasties and g-strings, or bikinis,” U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez wrote in an Oct. 19 ruling for the baristas. “The restrictions are so detailed they effectively prescribe the clothes to be worn by women in quick service facilities.”

The owner and a handful of employees of the coffee stand sued in 2017 after Everett enacted the law requiring all employees, owners and operators of “quick service facilities” to wear clothing that covers the upper and lower body. The plaintiffs claimed the law was unconstitutionally vague and also violated the First Amendment. A federal judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the ordinance pending a ruling, but in 2019, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and gave the lower court a framework for interpreting the First Amendment claim.

Martinez found the ordinance did not violate the First Amendment, but said it could “encourage a humiliating, intrusive, and demoralizing search on women, disempowering them and stripping them of their freedom.”

“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.

The city claimed it passed the ordinance because the coffee stand was contributing to crime. Police reported that baristas allowed customers “to photograph and/or touch them for a fee, performed sexual ‘shows,’ openly advertised prostitution activities, and allowed customers to masturbate while watching them perform, all within public view.”

That was enough to override any claim that serving coffee in the buff was free expression, the judge ruled. But crafting a law the enforcement of which would require police to measure the skin exposed by female employees was a bridge too far, according to Martinez.

One barista hailed the ruling, saying the police should not be enforcing dress codes.

“I think this protects our safety from law enforcement touching our body,” she said. “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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