Appeals Court to Hear Womans Case Against Harrahs Casino for Sex Discrimination
(San Francisco, December 2, 2003) - A federal appeals court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of a Reno woman who was fired from her job of 21 years as a bartender at Harrah’s Casino for not adhering to rigid sex stereotypes in the company’s new dress code. Lambda Legal, as co-counsel for the woman, is arguing that women and men should be treated equally in the workplace and that employers cannot have policies forcing employees to fit extreme gender stereotypes.
In August 2000, Darlene Jespersen was fired from her position as a bartender at Harrah’s after the company enacted a new dress code, called the “Personal Best” program, requiring all women in the beverage department to wear makeup, specified as foundation or powder, blush, lipstick and mascara, applied precisely the same way every day to match a photograph held by the supervisor. The only requirement for men is that they not wear any makeup of any kind. Jespersen’s work had been excellent for two full decades, but she was fired once she failed to conform to the company’s rigid and outdated sex stereotypes, Lambda Legal said.
“This is a classic sex discrimination case. Harrah’s fired Darlene because she wouldn’t adhere to the most extreme stereotypes of women,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office, who will argue the case. “Darlene did the same job as male bartenders, but because she is a woman, she was required to fit an extreme and oppressive stereotype that interfered with her ability to do her job.”
Late last year, a federal judge ruled against Jespersen, saying Harrah’s appearance standards don’t discriminate against women. But according to Lambda Legal, federal civil rights laws protect employees from being subjected to dress codes or other standards that impose unequal burdens on men and women. Lambda Legal will argue that Harrah’s Casino’s “Personal Best” program is not an equal burden on both genders - and that its burdens are especially heavy and unjustifiable because they force employees to conform to rigid sex stereotypes - and therefore is illegal.
“In the name of ‘good service,’ Harrah’s crafted very detailed and rigorous appearance rules for their employees to follow to the letter,” said Pizer. “But what Harrah’s failed to do was construct one that was fair and balanced for both men and women. The courts have traditionally agreed that employees cannot be mistreated because of their sex, which this policy does by making women’s jobs depend on maintaining an ultra-feminine look -- even working behind the Sports Bar.”
More than two decades ago, the same appeals court hearing this case said an airline violated sex discrimination laws by setting different weight restrictions for male and female flight attendants. Since then, and as recently as three years ago, the appeals court has ruled confirming that decision, making it clear that employers cannot impose different appearance standards for men and women to cater to the assumed preferences of customers.
In Darlene Jespersen v. Harrah’s Casino, Pizer is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on the case along with cooperating attorney Ken McKenna in Reno.
What: Oral Arguments in Darlene Jespersen v. Harrah’s Casino
When: Wednesday, December 3; 9 a.m.
Where: U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 95 Seventh Street, San Francisco
Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267