Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Sexpresso": Bodacious Baristas and Bfoqs

Stripper_2 Thanks to a Workplace Prof Blog reader who sent along this "steamy" article from The Seattle Times about how a number of coffee spots are trying to stand out in the Seattle area by selling a little more to their customers than just a cup of joe:

In a short, sheer, baby-doll negligee and coordinated pink panties, Candice Law is dressed to work at a drive-through espresso stand in Tukwila, and she is working it.

Customers pull their trucks up to the window, where Law greets each with an affectionate nickname, blows kisses, and vamps about as she steams milk for a mocha. "You want whipped cream?" she asks, a sly smile playing on her pierced lip.

Hot is not the half of it. To stand apart from the hordes of drive-through espresso stands that clutter the Northwest's roadsides, commuter coffee stops such as Tukwila's Cowgirls Espresso are adding bodacious baristas, flirty service and ever more-revealing outfits to the menu.

At Port Orchard's Natté Latté, baristas sport hot-pink hot pants and tight white tank tops. Day-of-the-week theme outfits ranging from racy lingerie to "fetish" ensembles are the dress code at Moka Girls Espresso in Auburn and at several Cowgirls Espresso stands in the area. Bikini tops are the special at Café Lorraine on Highway 9 in Woodinville, and the women of The Sweet Spot in Shoreline pose provocatively in Playmate-style profiles on the stand's Web site.

"In this area, we all know how to make good coffee," said Barbara Record, who opened Bikini Espresso in Renton last month. The trick is to set your business apart, she said, and sex is one sure-fire way to do that.

So I can't resist (and, BTW, this, if nothing else, proves how dorky law professors are).  What if a man applied for one of these customer service positions and was rejected?  A customer is quoted in the article as saying: "If I'm going to pay $4 for a cup of coffee, I'm not going to get served by a guy."  Could the coffee shop in question follow Hooters and claim a bona fide occupational qualification (bfoq) in defense of a Title VII claim?

Unlike Hooters, I think not.  The essence of these businesses is to sell coffee, not to provide vicarious sexual entertainment.  I see this more like an advertisement case, in the spirit of the Southwest Airlines' "Love Airline" campaign of the late 70s and early 80s.  And, of course, customer preference is not a bfoq.



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It's not clear Hooters can make that claim, is it? Last I heard they settled the lawsuit against them for a decent chunk of change.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jan 24, 2007 12:06:46 PM

Joe, I was led to believe (and I could be wrong) that the EEOC did not pursue the case because they did not believe they could overcome Hooters' bfoq argument. Anybody else out there no what happened at the end of the Hooters litigation?

Posted by: Paul | Jan 24, 2007 2:33:36 PM

The way it has always been explained to me is that the Hooters settlement was a changing of the guard issue: after Reagan was elected, the new EEOC preferred to settle.

On the merits, I think Hooters' BFOQ argument is very weak, considering the restaurant's own campaign to promote themselves as a 'family eating establishment.' To turn around and pretend to be a strip club for litigation purposes is too clever by half.

Posted by: jack | Jan 26, 2007 12:03:40 AM

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