Bartender fired from Harrah's
appeals federal decision

By Rachel Baez
Tribune Staff
June 16, 2003

A bartender who was fired from Harrah's Casino after 21 years for not adhering to the company's new dress code, filed papers with the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today.

In August 2000, Jespersen refused to comply with Harrah's new dress code, called the "Personal Best" program, which required all women in the beverage department to wear makeup, to style their hair, to wear nude or natural stockings, and to limit nail polish to clear, white, pink or red color only.

Jespersen specifically objected to wearing makeup and was fired.

She filed a federal lawsuit accusing Harrah's of sex discrimination, as prohibited by federal law.

She maintained that the Harrah's policy held women to an unfairly strict dress code as compared with men, who are required to keep their hair cut above the collar, fingernails trimmed, and their faces free from makeup.

Late last year, senior U.S. District Court Judge Edward Reed ruled against Jespersen, concluding that the casino’s appearance standards imposed a different, but essentially equal burden on both sexes.

It is company policy not to comment on litigation, said Harrah's spokeswoman Kerri Garcia.

Following that ruling, Jespersen's case was picked up by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national organization interested in individual rights.

"The fact that they would accept representation is just a fantastic accomplishment for the case because now it will get the national attention that Darlene deserves," said attorney Ken McKenna, who represents Jespersen in Reno.

McKenna said that Jespersen's fight has caused a personal and economic tragedy for her, as she has not been able to find work in the casino industry for months.

Before the original suit was filed, however, Harrah’s offered Jespersen her job back without making her follow the policy. But she rejected the deal, saying it would have allowed the policy to remain in effect for other workers.

"Darlene is doing this, not just for herself, but, for all women, because she thinks people need to be looked at as individuals, not as stereotypes," McKenna said.

Lambda Legal's appeal on Jespersen's behalf argues that the Harrah's policy is unreasonable because it requires women to conform to ultra-feminine appearances.

"Employers are certainly allowed to require their workers to present a professional appearance — but Harrah's went too far by requiring women to fit extreme, burdensome stereotypes, which is exactly what federal civil rights laws forbid," said Jennifer C. Pizer, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office.

Pizer respresents Jespersen along with New York-based Lambda Legal attorney Jennifer Middleton and McKenna. Harrah's Casino has 30 days to file court papers responding to today's filing. The case will probably not reach a decision for 18 to 24 months, McKenna said.

Copyright © 2003 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission

The Reno Gazette-Journal's 6-17-2003 take on the above story

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Darlene Jespersen's complete story and photos + links

Appeals Court to Hear Harrah's
Gender Discrimination Case

By Peter Schelden
Tribune Staff
December 2, 2003

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case of Darlene Jespersen, a bartender suing Harrah's Casino for gender discrimination.

Jespersen was fired in August 2000 from the Reno Harrah's casino after a new grooming code, called the "Personal Best" program, was instituted by Harrah's. The "Personal Best" program requires all women in the beverage department — including bartenders like Jespersen — to wear makeup.

Jespersen refused to wear makeup, resulting in her termination. The ACLU and Lambda legal group became involved in the case after the defendant, Harrah's, prevailed in the lower court.

Allen Lichtenstein, an ACLU lawyer and a member of Jespersen's general council, said that the Harrah's grooming policy is unconstitutional, because it forces women to meet a standard that men are not required to meet.

"It assumes that women, first of all, have to look a particular way, have to paint their faces," Lichtenstein said. "To require that, to say that a woman's face in and of itself is insufficient, seems pretty extreme to me. It's completely unrelated to their ability to do their job properly."

Harrah's Entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson said that Harrah's grooming policies have nothing to do with gender stereotyping.

"We don't believe that that's the case at all," said Thompson. "There's only one person among 4200 employees that have complained about our policy."

Lichtenstein said that the number of complaints does not change the unconstitutionality of Harrah's grooming program.

"Majority rules doesn't apply when the constitution is involved," Lichtenstein said.

Ken McKenna, Jespersen's local attorney, said that Harrah's grooming policies go beyond reasonable workplace standards.

"There are some rights of workplaces to have grooming standards, but this exceeds those standards," McKenna said. "These are sexual stereotypes and go beyond what we would call normal grooming requirements. When you're telling women that they have to doll themselves up and look like the cosmopolitan covers, playboy magazine covers, you're saying that you must look sexy, you must look like the image of some fantasy woman. That's going beyond the line."

Thompson said that Harrah's "Personal Best" policy still requires women in the beverage department to wear makeup, but that some of the policy's requirements have changed.

"Some of the restrictions have — not restrictions, but standards, have been liberalized," Thompson said.

McKenna said that Harrah's grooming policies are intrusive.

"Your face is a personal part of you, and to say that a bartender can't serve drinks without a certain color of eye makeup is ludicrous," McKenna said.

"After 21 years (Jespersen) can no longer do her job without the administration of blush on her face? That's crazy, it's intrusive, and it's in violation with the person's self."

Thompson said that Jespersen's accusations are misdirected because Harrah's offered Jespersen her job back without requiring her to wear makeup.

"We offered Darlene Jespersen her old job back," Thompson said. "We said that she could have it without wearing makeup. She said flat out that she would not work for Harrah's."

McKenna said that Harrah's job offer was made only after Jespersen brought legal action against the casino corporation.

"Once the legislation started, (Harrah's) wanted to backpedal and make it all okay by offering her job back," McKenna said. "Darlene was embarrassed, humiliated, made to feel like a piece of meat. You can't put the spilled milk back in the bottle."

Copyright © 2003 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission

Darlene Jespersen's complete story and photos + links

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