An article recently came across my news feed that gave me pause. A new restaurant will be opening in Kamloops, BC, with a ‘unique’ dress code. As the name suggests, the Teenie Bikini Bistro will serve typical pub-style fare served by – wait for it – bikini girls.
In today’s day-in-age, how is this still a thing? And how does this pass the smell test for workplace discrimination?
In the past, I have been critical of the restaurant industry for discriminatory practices towards men and women alike. Recently, I was in a Red Robin that typifies these concerns. While having lunch, I noticed that all 9 servers on the floor were women, likely under the age of 25. All 7 of the line cooks that I could see through the kitchen were men. Coincidence? In other popular chain restaurants, you may have one token male server among a crowd of female counterparts wearing tight skirts and low-cut tops.
The Bikini Bistro, in my opinion, takes this to another level. While the article I referenced explicitly states that they are looking for female servers (ie. men need not apply), I can only assume that their hiring practices will also exclude the older worker (are you over 30? – you need not apply), the disabled worker (do you have a prosthetic limb or scarring on your midriff? – you need not apply), and certain religious workers (your head scarf is incompatible with our dress code – you need not apply). Gender, age, disability and religion are all prohibited grounds of discrimination in British Columbia.
Hiring practices aside, I also have concerns their over sexualized dress code and the obvious potential for sexual harassment. My understanding is that the Teenie Bikini Bistro will not be having cabana boys in speedos serving your plate of nachos. Only women will be subjected to an overtly sexualized uniform, which creates a distinct work environment based on gender. Only women will be subjected to the slobbering patrons, the unwanted touching and the sexualized jokes. I’m reminded of comments made by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in celebration of International Women’s Day, where the OHRC Commissioner stated:
“Employers must make sure their dress codes don’t reinforce sexist stereotypes. They send the message that an employee’s worth is tied to how they look. That’s not right, and it could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Unfortunately, for a practice that is so wide-spread, there is precious little case law addressing gender-based discrimination in the service industry. One BC case, however, serves as an interesting precedent for the Bikini Bistro. In Mottu v. MacLeaod and others, 2004 BCHRT 76, a case dealing with a “beer barrel” server in a popular night club:
Dress code requirements based on sex have been found to constitute discrimination on the basis of sex. Ms. Mottu chose not to wear an outfit that was gender specific and that she believed was sexual in nature. I compare this to the fact the male bartenders and door staff were not required to wear something that was gender-specific or carried sexual connotations. I find this constitutes discriminatory conduct and that the actions of the respondents on and after the incident […] constitute discrimination against Ms. Mottu in the terms of her employment based on her sex.
I agree. And the Bikini Bistro should take careful note.
At Kent Employment Law, we promote sustainable employment relationships. We believe that these relationships are mutually beneficial to employers and employees alike, and are founded on a relationship of trust and respect. If you are an employer or an employee with questions about workplace discrimination please contact one of our offices.
By David M. Brown, Kent Employment Law