Establishing correlations between physical appearance and employment is a touchy subject. On the one hand, people of all shapes and sizes need employment in order to provide for themselves and their families. On the other hand, however, many employers insist that they have a right to establish appearance-based limitations in order to amplify the experience and atmosphere on offer at their businesses. In the case of the casino industry, this conundrum can be identified in the hiring and firing of cocktail waitresses.
Earlier this week, an appeals panel ruled that the Borgata Casino in New Jersey is legally permitted to regulate the weight of its cocktail waitresses, but the controversial decision didn’t come without limitations. In fact, the decision stated that courts should be allowed to decide if managers properly enforce the Borgata’s personal appearance standards. In particular, the ruling highlighted a lawsuit brought by 21 servers claiming that a group of women were subjected to hostile work environments as a result of improper enforcement of the casino’s appearance policy.
Officials from the casino were pleased with the ruling, noting that the standards were disclosed and agreed to by all “costumed beverage servers” prior to employment as “Borgata Babes.” The Borgata Babes serve as an integral part of the Atlantic City casino’s brand and marketing efforts. The waitresses wear tight-fitting corsets, high heels and stockings, and they are featured in the casino’s annual Borgata Babes calendar, which is one of its top-selling items each year.
An attorney for the plaintiffs was less optimistic about the ruling, which overturned part of a 2013 lower court decision throwing out the lawsuit by former and current cocktail servers. She protested the institutionalized sexual objectification and hostile working environment presented, in her opinion, as a direct result of the personal appearance standards. The attorney also recounted cases in which her clients were subjected to inappropriate comments from supervisors regarding their weight.
The Borgata Casino stated that it had only fired two Borgata Babes over the years for violating the personal appearance policy, which prohibits servers from gaining or losing more than 7 percent of their body weight. One was fired for gaining too much weight, while the other was terminated for losing too much weight. Neither of those individuals was involved in the recent lawsuit.
If you’re wondering if this type of policy is restricted to Atlantic City, you’ll likely be interested to learn that only one state in the U.S. specifically bars discrimination based on height or weight: Michigan. A handful of cities – including Santa Cruz, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Binghamton, New York – also have laws on the book to protect against discriminatory practices involving weight in the workplace, but there doesn’t appear to be much momentum for adding new protections in other municipalities any time soon.
In the majority of markets around the country, casinos are legally permitted to regulate the weight of cocktail waitresses. In these cases, employees will be required to agree to these appearance-based policies prior to being hired. While these policies may not be nice or fair, this ruling has reaffirmed their legality, at least for the time being.