Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You Will Feel Pretty, or Else
In Reno, Nevada, a few years ago, Harrah's casino adopted something called a "beverage department image transformation policy." This was a dress code on steroids. It required female employees to get an "image consultation," which included a makeover. A photo would be taken after the makeover and added to each woman's personnel file so that her supervisor could determine whether she was properly made up for her job. Bartender Darlene Jesperson, a 20-year veteran of Harrah's, refused to comply because she said the policy made her feel like a sex object, and that wearing makeup diminished her effectiveness in dealing with unruly customers. The company suggested she apply for a position with the company that didn't require makeup. (Something behind closed doors, presumably, where customers wouldn't see her.) No thanks, she said. You're fired, they said.

A lawsuit followed, which eventually made it all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And just before New Year's, the Ninth Circuit sided with Harrah's and threw out Jesperson's lawsuit. The court said she failed to prove that Harrah's policy put an unequal burden on female and male employees. Females were required to wear makeup and to wear their hair teased, curled or styled. They were also to wear stockings and nail polish. Males were forbidden to wear makeup or nail polish, and were to maintain short hair and trimmed fingernails. By finding no unequal burden in those rules, the court declared that a rule enforcing makeup for women is equal to one forbidding makeup to men.

As if it weren't astoundingly goofy enough already, the ruling seems to contradict a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forbids employers to use particular hair and/or makeup styles as a condition of employment.

The capper to this is that the Ninth Circuit is widely considered to be the most liberal federal court in the country. (It's the one that ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.) If any court in the land could have ben expected to rule for the right to appear in public just the way you are, it would have been this one.

Just another black-is-white, up-is-down moment in the New American Century. You can read some other commentaries on the case here and here.

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