The city of Everett, Washington, is gearing up for a legal battle with the owner of the “Hillbilly Hotties” chain of coffee stands and seven bikini baristas, who are suing after the city passed prudish dress code ordinances that they claim violate their freedom of expression.
Most coffee shops have a gimmick that helps them stand out for the crowd or compete with name-brand franchises like Starbucks. At Hillbilly Hotties, customers were treated to scantily-clad female baristas who served up cups of joe while wearing next to nothing.
According to the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the ordinances passed by Everett City Council stripped the bikini baristas of the ability to fairly express themselves with their attire and claimed that the new rules unfairly target women.
“Just like Starbucks with green aprons, UPS with brown trucks and outfits, and Hooter’s with short-orange shorts, the baristas’ attire evokes a message at work,” the lawsuit states, citing “freedom, empowerment, openness, acceptance, approachability, vulnerability and individuality” as messages that have been erased thanks to the ordinances.
Under Everett’s new laws, workers at “quick service” restaurants – including fast food joints and food trucks – must wear at least tank tops and shorts. Residents were also subjected to a redefined lewd conduct ordinance and can now be punished for the crime of “facilitating lewd conduct.”
“Employees and owners of barista stands where this conduct occurs are making large sums of money from overtly sexual, lewd conduct, and prostitution,” the city wrote in one of the measures.
Sure enough, several bikini barista stands have been found to serve as cover-ups for drive-thru strip clubs and brothels, with one former Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant pleading guilty to helping launder money from a prostitution ring run out of one of the roadside stands.
But Jovanna Edge, who two Hillbilly Hotties stands in Everett, claims that the laws are unnecessary and even allowed law enforcement officers to monitor real-time surveillance videos of her businesses.
“I don’t want to hide anything from them,” she said. “Everybody needs to follow the rules, to not step out of the box and take their clothes off for people. That’s a way to keep them honest.”