Bikini barista battle ends with city paying $500,000 settlement to owner and employees of Hillbilly Hotties: ‘You can wear whatever you want to wear’

A legal battle over a dress code for bikini-clad baristas at cafes is ending after a town north of Seattle agreed to pay $500,000 to the owner and employees who sued him six years ago.

Everett City Council voted unanimously this week to allow Mayor Cassie Franklin to sign the settlement agreement with Jovanna Edge and employees, The Daily Herald reported.

The plaintiffs sought more than $3 million in damages and attorney fees.

Under the agreement, the city will retain most of its rules for probationary licensing of coffee stands and other quick-service businesses, but will no longer require baristas to wear at least tank tops and shorts.

Instead, the city will align dress code rules with an existing lewd standard of conduct that makes it a crime to publicly expose too many of your private parts. Another provision requires business owners to post materials for employees with information on how to seek help if they are trafficked or otherwise exploited.

“I’m glad we’re for baristas and against people trying to get them to do things they don’t want to do,” city council member Liz Vogeli said after the vote.

The settlement could end a saga that began in 2009 when the city said it received complaints prompting investigations that found some stalls were selling sex performances and sex acts and allowing patrons to physically touch baristas. Four people were arrested and prosecuted.

In 2013, two espresso stand owners were arrested for encouraging prostitution and the exploitation of a minor, as well as a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Sgt. exchange of sexual favors. The sergeant resigned and the owners were convicted.

In 2017, the city created the Dress Code Ordinance requiring employees, owners and operators of “quick service facilities,” from coffee stands to fast food restaurants, to wear clothing that covers the top. and lower body under penalty of fines.

Edge, the owner of the Everett Hillbilly Hotties bikini barista stand, and employees Natalie Bjerke, Matteson Hernandez, Leah Humphrey, Amelia Powell and Liberty Ziska filed a lawsuit arguing that the order violated their First Amendment rights .

“Some countries require you to wear a lot of clothes because of their religious beliefs,” Hernandez wrote. “But America is different because you can wear what you want to wear. I wear what I’m comfortable with and other people can wear what they’re comfortable with.

The case was the subject of various court rulings, but in October a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the unconstitutional dress code ordinance.

Ramerman told the board the city could appeal, but a loss would result in a score much higher than the $500,000. The city spent nearly $400,000 defending the ordinance.

The settlement “still gives us our best tool to compel stall owners to ensure that their employees do not engage in illegal behavior,” the city attorney said.

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