This week, current and former employees of the “sports and grill” restaurant Twin Peaks filed charges with the EEOC alleging, among other things, that they were subject to hostile work environment sexual harassment. The employees, who were hired as servers and a bartender, claimed, among other things, that they were forced to wear very revealing uniforms which were much skimpier than the shorty shorts and midriff tops that they were given upon hire and that they were subject to regular body inspection and grading on their appearance which was not only humiliating but directly correlated to their table assignments, with those table assignments directly correlating to probable tips.
The factual allegations are salacious enough and include claims that the uniforms that the servers were required to wear were so skimpy that they received indecent exposure citations from the Village and that they were repeatedly “body shamed” by management. There is no doubt that being a server at Twin Peaks could feel exploitative and maybe demeaning, but the question is when you apply for a job at a restaurant called Twin Peaks, and you know that the marketing model consists of offering attractive and skimpily clad servers, can an employee turn around and claim hostile work environment sexual harassment when they have to perform the duties that they were hired to do?
A key element to prevailing in a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim is that the actions by the employer were not only offensive, but unwelcome. Other employers have successfully raised defenses to these types of claims in the past with the argument that the employees knew what they were getting into when they took the job; knew that their bodies would be exploited; and knew that they were hired based in large part on their looks.
It will be interesting to see the EEOC’s determination on these claims. The employees have added a factual twist that they were often required to wear far more revealing uniforms than they were told about upon hire, which allegedly at one point resulted in indecent exposure citations. Additionally, the body shaming and adverse effect of not making the “grade” in management’s body assessment of employees might be viewed wholly apart from the stated job requirement of being an attractive physically fit young woman willing to wear uniforms that accent their bodies. In addition to these factual twists is the more recent heightened awareness of harassment in the workplace.