Baristas Sue for a Woman's Right to Work in a Bikini

(Published under Creative Commons)

At this point in my life, I have to fight the visceral reaction I have whenever anyone starts talking about something being women’s rights or minorities’ rights or whatever. So many times, these “rights” equate to demands for special treatment and I’ve somewhat become conditioned to roll my eyes at the mere mention of women’s rights. This isn’t good, though, because women do have rights. The same as any other human being.


That’s what I kept in mind while I read this story from Reason about bikini-clad baristas filing a lawsuit against their city for the right to be bikini-clad baristas.

Bikini baristas in Washington state are suing a city over its ban on serving “quick service” food and drinks with bare shoulders, midriffs, or upper thighs. On Monday, a group of seven baristas and one coffee stand owner filed a federal lawsuit alleging a violation of their rights to free expression, privacy, due process, and equal protection.

“This is about women’s rights,” barista Natalie Bjerk told the Seattle Times.

She’s right. The City of Everett isn’t claiming that the regulations serve any food safety or public health purposes. According to Assistant City Attorney Ramsey Ramerman, the point of the dress code is to prevent unethical coffee stand owners from pressuring employees into showing too much skin, and to keep baristas from giving customers a peep show for extra cash.

Under a pair of August ordinances, employees at food trucks, drive-up coffee stands, and similar establishments are banned from being in bikinis, shorts, sheer clothing, or any other outfit that shows bare stomachs, shoulders, breasts, lower backs, or pubic areas, or the three inches of leg below the butt.

Employee violations can lead to fines for business owners, along with a requirement to register for a special license (which the city can deny) and a five-year probationary period. Subsequent employee violations during the probationary period can get the establishment’s food-service license revoked. And if the owners are judged to have “facilitated” the “lewd conduct,” they can be slapped with a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.


Reason notes that one of the women filing the lawsuit says she chose her clothing herself, that no one pressured her into it, and this is important.

Freedom means being free to make choices you don’t actually agree with. There are already laws on the books against giving customers quick peeps — public indecency laws that bar displays of nudity — and the last thing this country needs is more laws. And so with those two things in mind, it sounds like puritanism at work in Everett, Washington.

Look, if you don’t like the idea of a bikini barista, then don’t visit. Patronize an establishment with a different dress code. That’s what capitalism is all about. If enough people agree with you, the problem will be self-correcting in short order.

If not, well, tough. Trying to regulate supposedly objectionable businesses out of existence isn’t how things should work in this country.


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