UnderCover Waitress: Lunchtime at Hooters: Sexual Harassment?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lunchtime at Hooters: Sexual Harassment?

Ask the Waitress! This question came my way via a comment

Serious question. If my boss brought me to Hooters is that a form of sexual harassment?

That is an excellent question, a potential can of legal worms, and gave me pause. The question does not give details, so let's consider a few different scenarios. 

The first thing that comes to mind is that, unfortunately, the first thing the complaining employee might be asked is, "Did you object to the lunch location?" I say 'unfortunately' because we place the onus of responsibility on the victim, not the perpetrator. 

On the one hand, if she didn't object, the employer may not have realized she was uncomfortable. On the other hand, WTF is wrong with a man who assumes that a woman will be happy and comfortable at Hooters? A reasonable person can see the problem here. And people who argue that some women eat at Hooters are not unaware of the fact that many women are uncomfortable with Hooters, and they also understand why. 

There are plenty of reasons why a female employee might be uncomfortable voicing her objection to the lunch locale. First, she will be labeled "the complainer." Then, she stops receiving invitations to business lunches during which important networking takes place. 

Perhaps the most important question here is, "Was the plaintiff subjected to unlawful discrimination in the workplace?" If the business lunch was required, then perhaps the answer is, "yes." If the business lunch was optional but held at a place that would make female employees uncomfortable, well, perhaps more questions should be asked. 

If this was an isolated incident, it might be as simple as suggesting a different lunch locale next time. But I doubt it's that simple. 

If this type of attitude toward women or behavior is part of the pervasive work environment, the claim may have a better chance. In other words, if the employer says or does other things that signify his opinion of women as lesser beings, then a case may be made using all of the evidence, including lunch at Hooters. 

One of my "legal eagle" colleagues felt that if the lunch were held at a strip club, not Hooters, there would be a better chance of a claim. This statement made me think that the veracity of the claim may rely too much on the personal attitudes that individuals have towards Hooters.

Hooters attempts to have its cake and eat it, too. In order to avoid having to hire male waiters, they claim the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification, or "BOFAQ." When they bill themselves as adult entertainment, they can use the BOFAQ defense when sued by men who want to work waiting tables. 

However, Hooters also attempts to bill itself as a family restaurant. If a boss takes his employees to lunch at Applebee's or Chili's, the female employees would not have an automatic sexual harassment complaint. Whether or not they have a sexual harassment complaint after being taken to Hooters may be an open question. It would be decided on both the specifics of the case and, I fear, the attitudes of the judge, jury, etc. toward Hooters. 

Last, if the employee were to speak to a lawyer about the situation and the lawyer pretended not to understand why Hooters is a sexually hostile environment, the employee should speak to a different lawyer. Also, it couldn't hurt to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and see what happens. 

I think if more people stand up to Hooters and other breastaurants we may see change. Some people voice their approval by eating or working in breastaurants. Other people simply turn away, don't eat there, but don't say anything. Quiet and apathy don't create change: speaking up does. 

Best of luck to the person who asked this question.


  1. I don't know if I would consider it sexual harassment. It's definitely in bad taste on the boss's part. Personally, I wouldn't choose Hooter's as a restaurant for mixed company during business hours. It's just bad judgement.

    1. Bad taste and bad judgement are great words to describe having a business lunch at Hooters. if it is an isolated incident, you may be right that it does not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

  2. Any reasonable person would see that as a really, really bad judgement call.

    1. I completely agree with you. The sad thing is, some Hooters locations brag that they hold "corporate events."

      So, I wonder: if we placed the onus of responsibility on the employer to run a business free of sexual harassment and hostile work environments, would more bosses suddenly recognize that a business lunch at Hooters is in poor taste and bad judgement?

  3. If it were a term of employment or if not going would put the employee in a bad light I would consider it sexual harassment--based on a hostile work environment. It would be no different than the boss making you watch videos of lingerie models on your computer. As a sexual harassment attorney I can't believe the bad business decisions manager make--and this would be one. I write a daily blog on sexual harassment cases and you can't believe some of the stories.


    1. Thank you for your work helping sexual harassment plaintiffs.

  4. As a Hooter's girl, I don't see why this would be considered sexual harassment. Hooter's is a family restaurant, NOT a strip club. I've worked in several restaurants, and the only difference is that Hooter's has a very stress free atmosphere, with better-looking people. I actually get to sit down with customers & talk to them about their day (if they want me to). Everywhere else I have worked does not allow you to do that. I do not flirt with people, I do my job just like anywhere else. We have as many females eat there as males. We give the children crayons & balloons. I've even hula hooped with the kids before. If you feel uncomfortable eating there, then you must be self conscious, & I am sorry you feel that way. People come there to discuss business everyday. If your boss will think differently of you because you disagree with eating there, then maybe you should rethink working for that person! Hooter's also has a strict sexual harassment policy. Society has a bad perception of Hooter's. Yes, we are in a small uniform, but it actually covers more than you think...I am not ashamed to work there, and I feel sorry for people who are ashamed to eat there.
    -Hooter's Girl Trussville, AL

  5. We also raise money for charities...such as the Kelly Jo Dowd breast cancer fund. http://www.hooters.com/orangepride/charity.html

    Working at Hooter's is also helping me through Nursing School, so maybe one day I can help others who need me. I hope that you change your mind one day about Hooter's =) Have a great day!

  6. Lol..see it how you want...Hooters is devilish


Please share your thoughts.