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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Everett wins on bikini barista dress code, but no Spokane legislation in sight

A barista at a Grab-N-Go Bikini Hut espresso stand holds money Feb. 2, 2010, as she waves to a customer, just outside the city limits of Everett, Wash., in Snohomish County. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Although the clothing may feel freeing, serving up coffee in a bikini – or less – at a business isn’t free expression protected by the First Amendment, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week.

The ruling relates to the “Dress Code Ordinance” created by the city of Everett requiring employees to wear at least a tank top and shorts at “quick service facilities” because of a “proliferation of crimes of a sexual nature” occurring at local bikini barista stands. The owner of a local bikini barista chain and seven employees responded with a lawsuit in 2017.

Spokane Valley City Council passed an ordinance in 2013 to require genitals and at least half of a woman’s breast to be hidden with an opaque covering.

“It seems to have accomplished what we intended it to do,” Spokane Valley Councilman Rod Higgins said Monday.

At the time, Higgins said there were issues with workers at the East Sprague Avenue Devil’s Brew location taking breaks outside the stand in view of passing cars while not properly covered.

“We were trying to nip something in the bud before it got out of hand,” Higgins said.

However, the city of Spokane has not attempted to institute any dress codes since the latest of three attempts to do so failed in 2015.

Current council President candidate Mike Fagan, who championed past failed efforts, said he has no immediate desire to pursue a dress code ordinance if he is re-elected. But, he does believe bikini barista employees do need to cover up.

“I had been kind of awaiting the results of the legal challenge that the city of Everett was going through,” Fagan said.

The first ordinance he proposed would have created a misdemeanor unlawful public exposure charge for not covering private areas. After that came an initiative, which received less than half the necessary signatures, to create a similar law. And, a second failed ordinance proposed by Fagan sought to restrict or ban businesses with nude or nearly nude workers if they were located near schools, parks, places of worship, day care centers or libraries.

Fagan said Spokane’s issues were different from Everett, in that bikini barista stands there were linked to prostitution and police corruption.

“It didn’t get to that point here in Spokane,” he said.

Devil’s Brew did reach some compromises with the city, such as employees covering up while outside the stands and toning down racy Facebook posts.

Going forward, Fagan said he would like to see baristas don even more clothing than tank tops and shorts in order to protect them from hot equipment and to meet health requirements. However, public health and labor officials told The Spokesman-Review this wasn’t a concern in 2013.

“I am open to a public discussion if the public would like to engage again,” Fagan said.