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Attractive young waitresses wanted: But at what cost?

Image Credit: PEXELS
May 30, 2019 - 6:00 PM

KELOWNA - If you’ve been to a growing number of restaurants lately, you probably noticed something about the servers: The vast majority are young, attractive women and often not wearing much.

Perhaps it's a coincidence at some eateries, but at one Kamloops location, however, it’s completely by design. 

Leann McArthur opened the Teenie Bikini Bistro in Kamloops this week, promising her customers a dining experience where they will be served by wait staff dressed in bikinis or one-pieces. She said it was a fun, unique idea that hadn’t been done in the area.

“We are not being sexist and we’re not discriminating (against) women,” she said in a recent interview with “(The servers) are not going to be flaunting themselves on the street, they are inside.”

But as Kelowna-based employment lawyer David Brown pointed out in a blog he penned this week, her understanding of discrimination may be a bit off.

“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 headscarf is incompatible with our dress code – you need not apply),” Brown wrote in his blog.

“Gender, age, disability and religion are all prohibited grounds of discrimination in British Columbia.”

The sharply phrased analysis about the hiring practices at the bikini bistro and any number of other less overtly gender-biased businesses was prompted by a friend who sent him a link to a story about the eatery, alongside the message, “I think these people need some of your advice.”

“Originally, I chuckled and thought, ‘is this kind of thing is still happening?’ and then I forwarded it to my (women) co-workers and they all had some strong thoughts on it,” he said.

In B.C. we have the Humans Rights Code, which is aimed at protecting everyone against discrimination and harassment, in areas like advertising and employment, among others. 

It sets out boundaries for hiring practices. For example, you can discriminate on education: If someone doesn’t have the qualifications needed, they don’t get the job.

But vetting job applicants on characteristics like age, gender, religion, place of origin and sexual orientation is forbidden.

And in the case of the Teenie Bikini, he said, there are two different forms of discrimination taking place here.

“For one, if your servers have to be young attractive females, what does that do for the person with disabilities, or for the male or for someone with religious reasons can’t wear your uniform … that’s an artificial distinction based on company policy,” he said.

The second concern could be mitigated by Teenie Bikini policies, but creating an overtly sexualized work environment sparks obvious concerns. 

"My understanding is that the Teenie Bikini Bistro will not be having cabana boys in speedos serving your plate of nachos," he said.

"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.”

What Brown finds more baffling is that the practice is not challenged.

“There are so few cases that go before the courts or the Human Rights Tribunal about this,” he said.

To read his full letter, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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