Hooters weight-discrimination case moves to arbitration

By: Sarah Cormier | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 13, 2011

 Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing for Hooters of America, holds a poster detailing “The Hooters Girl Look” while a Hooters Girl talks about what it means to be a waitress at the chain restaurant known for its orange hot pants and tight white tank tops last year during a press conference.

Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing for Hooters of America, holds a poster detailing “The Hooters Girl Look” while a Hooters Girl talks about what it means to be a waitress at the chain restaurant known for its orange hot pants and tight white tank tops last year during a press conference.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROSEVILLE — Two former waitresses from Hooters of Roseville agreed to have a discrimination lawsuit they brought against the company heard in arbitration.

Cassandra Marie Smith, 21, filed charges against the company in May of last year for weight discrimination. She says she was fired after she was told to lose weight and did not. One month later, another former employee of the Roseville branch of the chain restaurant, Leanne Convery, 24, came forward with similar accusations.

Attorney Richard Bernstein is representing both women. He had been fighting to get their case heard in a court since last summer even though both women had signed employment contracts with the restaurant binding them to arbitration in the case of a lawsuit.

However, the plaintiffs maintained that despite a notation on the contract inviting them to do so, they were not actually allowed to take the contract home to be viewed by outside council. Judge Peter Maceroni of Macomb County Circuit Court sided with Smith and Convery in August of last year, but his decision was later overturned in appeals court.

In his written opinion, Maceroni said the defendants “may not have knowingly waived their right to litigate their claims in court.”

Attorneys for Hooters immediately filed for appeal, and in February 2011, a three-judge appeals panel placed a stay on Maceroni’s ruling.

Since then, the case had been in limbo — until last month, when Smith and Convery agreed to move the case to arbitration.

“It’s always been Hooters’ position that this belongs in arbitration, not circuit court,” said Hooters attorney Rob Huth is a written statement after the agreement was reached.

Now, the case that was once predicted to take years to hash out should be solved in a matter of months.

Hooters has maintained that they did not discriminate, and neither employee was forcibly excused from work due to her weight.

Smith, who at 5 feet 8 inches tall and 132.5 pounds, wore an extra-small size uniform, said she was actually 145 pounds at the time she was hired. According to the lawsuit, the only sizes of Hooters Girl uniforms are extra-extra small, extra-small and small.

Smith alleges the “weight probation” status she was placed on was also disclosed to fellow co-workers and others, which produced an “intensely humiliating, untenable employment environment.” She is suing Hooters for over $25,000 to cover lost wages, emotional distress and court costs.

Convery’s story is similar in that she says employees encouraged her to take diet pills after she says she was told on July 6, 2009, that she had 30 days to make her size extra-small uniform “fit more properly.”

According to the lawsuit, Convery, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 115 pounds, launched into a crash diet, losing 15 pounds in 30 days, but was fired anyway on Aug. 10 of that year for showing “no improvement.”

Bernstein was unavailable for comment at press time, but his publicist, Kristen Priest, said that no new news has emerged since the case entered into arbitration last month.

C & G Staff Writer Robin Ruehlen contributed to this story.
 

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