After drive-up coffee shacks featuring scantly clad baristas became popular in one town, the city council decided to do something about it, passing a dress code. That’s when a band of bikini baristas decided to file a lawsuit.
When Everett, Washington, a sleepy burg about 25 miles outside of Seattle, became home to several coffee shacks employing bikini baristas, not everyone was happy about it. The prospect of getting an eyeful of “jugs” while ordering up some java wasn’t something everyone supported, so the city council passed a dress code in the hopes of cracking down on these establishments, but things didn’t go as planned.
After passing a pair of ordinances, Everett banned skimpy clothing at all quick-service food and drink venues such as the “Hillbilly Hotties” espresso stand. One of the ordinances prohibited employees at these “quick service” restaurants from exposing their midriffs, breasts, and the top three inches of their legs. The other defined a new crime of facilitating lewd conduct.
According to the city council, the rules were adopted because the tiny outfits worn by the “bikini baristas” provided “the opportunity for scantily clad baristas to easily engage in sexual conduct with customers,” Maxim reported. Of course, Hillbilly Hotties and their baristas didn’t agree.
After the city prohibited some vendors from showing certain parts of their bodies while performing their jobs and tied the regulation to the potential exploitation of women and “adverse impacts on minors,” a group of bikini baristas decided to sue, according to Legal Scoops. The baristas alleged that their First Amendment right to free expression was being infringed upon, which was the basis for their lawsuit.
“This is about women’s rights. The city council should not tell me what I can and cannot wear when I go to work, it’s a violation of my First Amendment rights,” said barista Natalie Bjerke at the time, according to The Blaze.
“It’s our bodies and it’s our choice,” said Emilija Powell, an employee at the Everett bikini barista chain “Hillbilly Hotties,” Reason reported. Many seemed to agree that law enforcement had more important fish to fry in Everett and that the city should be more concerned about drugs and its homeless crisis than baristas in bikinis.
However, officials say the coffee shacks and their scantily clad employees have contributed to crime. “This is not about being offended by people wearing bikinis,” Assistant City Attorney Ramsey Ramerman previously explained. “Some of these stands had the characteristics of a poorly run strip club, and trying to enforce standards under the previous law was simply ineffective.”
Indeed, in years prior, “law enforcement officials made several arrests at quick-service coffee stands for prostitution and indecent exposure charges. Some of the servers were accused of performing erotic shows for customers and allowing them to fondle or photograph them for $80,” according to The Blaze. “Hillbilly Hotties” also made news when three of their bikini baristas were arrested for showing body parts:
After the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge passed a preliminary injunction, ruling that the Everett-based business “Hillbilly Hotties” could stay open pending the resolution of its lawsuit against the city. A ton of money and many years later, the federal court case was finally decided, and the bikini baristas won.
US District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that the town’s dress code was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, even though he rejected the argument that the ordinances infringed on free speech. Thanks to the ruling, the bikini baristas’ constitutional right to be scantily clad while serving coffee was protected.
“The record shows this Ordinance was passed in part to have an adverse impact on female workers at bikini barista stands,” Martinez wrote. “There is evidence in the record that the bikini barista profession, clearly a target of the Ordinance, is entirely or almost entirely female. It is difficult to imagine how this Ordinance would be equally applied to men and women in practice.”
It’s actually easy to see both sides of this debate since there were several arrests at such coffee stands, where bikini baristas engaged in criminal activity. However, it reminds me of the questionable “massage parlors” that allegedly offer up a “happy ending.” Do you prohibit all because of the crimes of a few? According to a US judge, the answer to that is no.