After a United States district court ruled that portions of a city ordinance addressing “bikini barista” stands unfairly targeted women, the City of Everett, Washington, has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
As first reported by MyEverettNews.com and confirmed in a press release obtained by DCN, the settlement represents the latest twist in a six-year-old case that has captured national attention, in part for its constitutional implications.
Lewd Conduct and Dress Code Lawsuit
Jovanna Edge, the owner of a coffee chain called Hillbilly Hotties, brought the suit in 2017 in response to a city ordinance that Everett officials said was designed to address the “proliferation of crimes of a sexual nature occurring at bikini barista stands throughout the city.”
Popularized over the past two decades largely in the Western U.S., the “bikini barista” retail model typically involves quick-service, drive-through coffee stands tended by female baristas who are scantily clad in swimwear or lingerie.
Officials in Everett have conducted criminal investigations since at least 2009 that have linked bikini barista stands to behavior such as public masturbation, public sex, drug trading and forced sex acts. Notably, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have not been accused of any illegal activities.
A “lewd conduct” ordinance enacted by the Everett City Council got notoriously specific in its wording, prohibiting “exposure or display of one’s genitals, anus, bottom one-half of the anal cleft, or any portion of the areola or nipple of the female breast.” The ordinance also defined “more than one-half of the part of the female breast located below the top of the areola” as lewd.
A second ordinance required employers to enforce a dress code that would prevent the exposure of “lewd” parts, which in practical terms might mean requiring shorts and tops covering more of the torso.
Mixed Court Ruling
In a ruling last October that largely sided with the city on 1st amendment issues, Judge Ricardo S. Martinez of the Western Washington State U.S. District Court also sided with plaintiffs’ arguments that the dress code ordinance violated 14th amendment rights to equal protection. Martinez cited the expert report of a plaintiff source referred to as “Dr. Roberts.”
“The Court is particularly swayed by Dr. Roberts’ observations that this Ordinance poses an unreasonable risk of demeaning enforcement,” Martinez wrote in his ruling. “Assuming the owners of bikini barista stands are unable or unwilling to enforce this dress code, at some point law enforcement will be asked to measure exposure of skin by some method. This ‘encourage[s] a humiliating, intrusive, and demoralizing search on women, disempowering them and stripping them of their freedom.’”
City Council Settlement
According to the city council press release, plaintiffs in the case were initially seeking $3.3 million. DCN was not able to immediately reach the plaintiffs or their representatives for comment.
Prior to an Everett City Council vote last night approving a $500,000 settlement, Deputy City Attorney Ramsey Ramerman suggested the new rule will continue to allow officials to crack down on lewd and illegal activities by maintaining probationary licensing of quick-service retail stands.
“It has taken a significant amount of work to get to this point and I am proud of what we have accomplished to help protect our community,” Ramerman said in the city’s announcement. “The amended ordinance better enables us to hold those who are actually responsible accountable for the conduct that occurs within some quick service facilities.”
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