Bikini-Wearing Baristas Steamed, Call Exposure Limit Biased

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By Jon Steingart

A city law against baristas showing too much of their breasts or buttocks when they wear bikinis while preparing coffee drinks discriminates against women and violates their right to free speech, they say in a lawsuit ( Edge v. City of Everett , W.D. Wash., No. 2:17-cv-01361, complaint filed 9/11/17 ).

The law is necessary to combat sex crimes connected to bikini barista stands, the Everett, Wash., city council said when it passed a pair of ordinances in August. The ordinances took effect Sept. 5. They amend a lewd activities law and establish a minimum dress requirement for coffee shops and other food and beverage businesses.

A bikini barista stand owner pleaded guilty in 2014 to promotion of prostitution and money laundering related to sex acts her baristas provided to drive-thru customers along with their cappuccinos. As part of the plea deal, the owner agreed to testify against a police officer who received sexual favors in exchange for warning baristas they’d be targeted by undercover investigators.

The city ordinance discriminates against women by specifying that it prohibits exposure of “the female breast,” according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by a separate owner of bikini barista stands and several women who work as baristas. There is no reason to single women out in the provision, they say.

The law also restricts baristas’ right to free speech under the U.S. and state constitutions, the complaint says. Baristas display tattoos that carry personal and political messages. They wouldn’t be able to communicate their ideas if they were required to wear clothing that covers their ink, they say.

The law gives authorities a tool to thwart “sex exploitation and sex trafficking” in the form of prostitution, Everett police sergeant James Collier told city council members during a July 19 meeting at which it considered the measure. “We’ve learned over the years that these women are victims and we need to help them,” he said.

Women Expressing Themselves, Attorney Says

“Maybe the men go in there because they want to see an attractive woman but that’s not why the women are there,” Derek Newman, an attorney for the law challengers, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 11.

He described a barista who proudly displays scars that help tell her personal story. “She has the opportunity to talk about her history because people ask how she got her scars,” he said. Of another barista, he said, “When customers ask her about the tattoos, she has the ability to express the stories about her life.”

“Regulate the conduct, not the clothing,” Newman said. “The law is just ironic because these women are expressing themselves, but this law turns them into an object.”

The law requires that certain body parts, including the chest, “buttocks, top three inches of legs below the buttocks, pubic area and genitals” remain covered at all times. Violations may result in civil revocation of a coffee shop’s business license or criminal conviction of a lewd acts law and jail time.

A spokeswoman for the city of Everett declined to comment Sept. 11.

Newman, Jessica Newman, Keith Scully, and Jason Sykes with Newman Du Wors LLP in Seattle represent the law’s challengers. An attorney hasn’t entered an appearance for the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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