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July 19, 2001
No Makeup, No Job
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ut a year ago, Harrah's casino in Reno, Nevada, fired Darlene Jespersen from her longtime job as a bartender there. The reason: She refused to wear makeup.

So Jespersen has filed suit against Harrah's in U.S. District Court, saying that being forced to wear mascara, lipstick, blush, and face powder to keep her job was a) humiliating and b) gender discrimination.

"I was good enough to do my job for 18 years," Jespersen tells the Christian Science Monitor. "Suddenly, I wasn't good enough to do my job because I refused to look like a clown."

In the age of business casual, such disputes might seem unusual. But as the Monitor reports, Jespersen's case is just the latest test of how far companies can go in mandating what employees should look like on the job.

Employees are demanding their right to look - and be - who they are. That means men suing for the right to sport goatees, airline stewardesses protesting company-mandated dieting, and TV news anchors refusing to be replaced because of encroaching wrinkles.

The Harrah's policy strikes many as not only outmoded but also sexist. In fact, women's and workers' groups in Nevada have staged protests in solidarity with her, according to the Monitor.

But it's often a different story in court, particularly when it comes to the entertainment industry. Indeed, courts generally find that "employers have a right to run their business and hold men and women to societal norms in terms of dress and grooming standards," says Corbett Anderson, a staff attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington.

That is especially true if appearance is part of the job, says Mark Dichter, chairman of the American Bar Association's Labor and Employment Law Section.

For example, he tells the Monitor, "most people would be shocked if they saw a TV anchor on TV without makeup on.... But if you're working at a computer terminal without makeup, it's hard for an employer to justify, because appearance is not an issue."

From shoes to makeup, casinos traditionally have mandated different dress codes for men and women. Sit at a slot machine or roulette table, and a female server in a uniform that includes a short skirt, high heels, and makeup will stop to offer a drink. The few male servers must wear long pants and look clean.

"This is nothing new to us," says Regina Hearrell, a female bartender at Harrah's who is happy with the requirement.

"This has been going on forever," agrees Jespersen.

Harrah's offered her her job back, sans makeup, but she says she won't go back unless the casino drops its policy. "You take it until it pushes that button. And that's what this did with me."

The policy arrived in Reno in the spring of 2000, days after a local group publicly protested high-heel requirements for cocktail servers, according to the Monitor.

Donna Cartinella, a former Harrah's cocktail waitress, says foot problems forced her to leave her job of 23 years, but the "personal best" policy also played a role. She says Harrah's went too far when it asked women to sign a paper promising they would arrive at work wearing the four makeup elements required. "You wondered what would happen to you if you didn't sign," she says.

All signed except Jespersen. She was fired.

Harrah's declines to comment on the lawsuit. It plans to implement the policy in other departments.

To view the Christian Science Monitor story, click here.
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