Plaintiff Amelia Powell, who has worked as a bikini barista, is seen here in 2017 in Seattle. (Rikki King / Herald file)

Plaintiff Amelia Powell, who has worked as a bikini barista, is seen here in 2017 in Seattle. (Rikki King / Herald file)

City of Everett wins in bikini barista federal court case

The baristas are unsure of their next steps but may file for a rehearing, their lawyer said.

EVERETT — Bikini baristas in the county’s largest city are another step closer to finding out how much they have to wear at work.

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the city of Everett in a lawsuit that was filed by a group of bikini baristas earlier this year.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 24-page ruling Wednesday. It found the baristas were unlikely to win a First Amendment argument that their right to free expression was violated by an Everett ordinance regulating dress.

The appeals court returned the case to U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The plaintiffs are associated with Hillbilly Hotties, a coffee stand with locations in Everett. They include owner Jovanna Edge, and five others who have been employees: Leah Humphrey, Liberty Ziska, Amelia Powell, Natalie Bjerke and Matteson Hernandez.

They were represented by Melinda Ebelhar of the California lawfirm Benedon & Serlin, LLP.

The group is disappointed in the decision, she said. They haven’t decided what to do next.

“We are weighing our options,” Ebelhar said Wednesday afternoon. “We may possibly be filing a petition for a rehearing, and that’s a decision that hasn’t been made yet, but will be made in the next couple of days.”

Spokeswoman Kari Goepfert issued a written statement on behalf of the city Wednesday afternoon.

“The city is grateful for the Ninth Circuit’s careful and thorough consideration of this case,” she said. “The Court’s opinion recognized the significant issues that the City has faced and the practical reality of regulating these businesses. … The City looks forward to enforcing its ordinances consistent with the Court’s decision and in the best interest of the community.”

Back in 2009, the Everett Police Department started receiving complaints about the coffee stands, according to court documents.


The department investigated, and found some employees were breaking the law. They began to prosecute, but after a few years found the method ineffective.

The department began to collaborate with the city to find a legislative fix, records show.

The city created the Dress Code Ordinance that applied to “quick-service facilities,” such as drive-through coffee stands. It said employees must at least wear a tank top and shorts.

“The baristas working at these stands wear what they call ‘bikinis,’ but the city describes them as ‘nearly nude employees,’” the ruling said.

The city also amended the definition of a “lewd act,” with descriptions of certain body parts and how they should be covered.

The baristas sued the city in response. They argued that the new definitions were too vague for an ordinary person to understand. They also said their outfits were a way to express themselves, and that the new dress code would violate their First Amendment rights.

In December 2017, a U.S. District court judge banned the city from enforcing the dress code, and agreed that the language was vague. The judge ruled that the ordinances could not be enforced until the lawsuit was resolved.

The city asked the 9th Circuit to review the enforcement ban, also known as a preliminary injunction. The two sides appeared in court in February.

Wednesday’s ruling says the city was correct in how it went about making the rules, and that the district court had “abused its discretion” earlier.

The ordinance does not give law enforcement too much leeway when making “close judgment calls” about what the baristas are wearing, according to court papers.

“The dress requirement clearly defines areas of the body that owners and employees must cover while operating Quick-Service Facilities, using commonly understood names for those body areas,” the ruling says. “All the officer must determine is whether the upper body … or lower body … are covered.”

When it came to the First Amendment, the court found that the messages the baristas may be trying to convey could be misinterpreted because of the commercial setting. Earlier, the workers said they were expressing their empowerment and confidence.

“The baristas’ acts of wearing pasties and g-strings in close proximity to paying customers creates a high likelihood that the message sent by the baristas’ nearly nonexistent outfits vastly diverges from those described in plaintiffs’ declarations,” wrote Judge Morgan Christen.

The justice also wrote: “The outcome of this case turns on the plaintiffs’ contention that the act of wearing almost no clothing while serving coffee in a retail establishment constitutes speech.”

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

More in News & Comment

Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Proposed winery ordinance irks King County farmers, neighbors and businesses

Concerns include more traffic, higher land prices, code enforcement and compliance.

Two Federal Way gang members charged with murder of teen dumped in Green River

Suspects allegedly brutally beat boy with a bat, chopped him with a machete before dismembering and dumping his body.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Kim Schrier held a roundtable at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank on Oct. 3 to talk about the Trump administration’s plan to further change SNAP food benefits rules and reduce the number of people using them. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Murray, Schrier vow to fight White House restrictions on food stamps

Senator and Representative met Oct. 3 at Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.

King County is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals, but emissions also have not been rising with population growth. File photo
King County isn’t on track to meet emissions goals

The goals were ambitious but progress has been slow.

King County is considering ways to increase both the supply of and demand for compost to help divert organic material from the landfill. File photo
King County wants to boost composting market

In 2018, around one-third of material sent to regional landfill could have been composted.

Bellevue is the most expensive place in the region to rent an apartment, according to a new analysis. Courtesy photo
Several King County cities are among most expensive to rent in Northwest

Bellevue topped the list for highest apartment rents during the first half of 2019.

Covington man arrested for 1991 cold case murder of 16-year-old Federal Way girl

The body of Sarah Yarborough, 16, was found on the Federal Way High School campus in December 1991.

Pepper takes a drink from the new water fountain display while on a walk with his owner, Mike Williams, at the Port of Everett on Wednesday in Everett. The Boats Afloat Show, which has been held on Seattle’s South Lake Union for some 30 years, is relocating to the Port of Everett next fall. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
‘The future of boating’: Everett will be home to Boats Afloat

The annual show is leaving Seattleā€™s South Lake Union and will call the Port of Everett home.

Eyman cohorts fined $1M in campaign finance case

Judge says Citizen Solutions hid source of money steered to Eyman for his personal and political use

Most Read