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Court says Everett's bikini barista dress code is unconstitutional

caption: XO Espresso, formerly known as Hillbilly Hotties, is a chain of bikini barista stands in Everett and Snohomish County.
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XO Espresso, formerly known as Hillbilly Hotties, is a chain of bikini barista stands in Everett and Snohomish County.
KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Everett's dress code targeting bikini baristas is unconstitutional, according to the latest ruling on the issue, which has been working its way through the courts for years.

The Everett Daily Herald reports that the U.S. District Court in Seattle found that the dress code violates equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, as well as Washington state's constitution.

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The controversy over bikini baristas in Everett has gone back and forth for years. The conflict goes back to 2009 when the police department opened an investigation into a chain and uncovered prostitution, as well as indecent exposure.

The city eventually passed a dress code ordinance for the coffee stands in 2017 that ordered workers to cover up. Baristas responded with a lawsuit, arguing that their clothing represents speech. A court paused Everett's dress code while the case continued.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle sided with the city in 2019. Now, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington has weighed in. It concludes the city's rules are unconstitutional.

The new ruling published last week states the ordinance was shaped by gender-based discrimination, adding it "‘encourage(s) a humiliating, intrusive, and demoralizing search on women, disempowering them and stripping them of their freedom.”

The ruling further states: "This Ordinance clearly treats women differently than men by banning a wide variety of women's clothing, not just pasties and g-strings, or bikinis. The restrictions are so detailed they effectively prescribe the clothes to be worn by women in quick service facilities. In sum, the City has failed to demonstrate how this disparate treatment of women is substantially related to the achievement of the Ordinance's stated objectives."

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The most recent court conclusion grants, and denies, parts of the city's request for summary judgment. Most of the plaintiff's claims were dismissed, except for the argument around the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The city and the plaintiffs are ordered to now meet and discuss how to proceed.

Angela King contributed to this report.

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