Everett city ordinance banning bikini baristas deemed unconstitutional

An Everett city ordinance has now been deemed unconstitutional after a ruling in the District Court. For nearly five years, a legal battle has played out between the City of Everett and Jovanna Edge. Edge is the owner of several Snohomish County coffeeshops with “bikini baristas.”

Edge sued the city council after they unanimously passed a city ordinance that created a dress code for specific businesses. It banned attire like swimsuits and lingerie.

In court filings, the city claimed the coffee stands had a history of prostitution, sexual assault, and exploitation – and that prompted the ban. The city then had police officers hand out fliers with suggested appropriate attire that included tank tops and shorts.

“Police would come through in their cruisers and they would hand us a piece of paper that had rules what we were allowed and not allowed to wear,” explains Courtney, a local barista. “And if it were anything other than that, we’d be charged with lewd conduct. Which is insane!”

Edge, along with seven baristas sued to block the ban stating the ordinance was vague, unlawfully targeted women, and denied them the ability to communicate through their attire.

“We’re like, ‘this is going to destroy our business,’ so we found an attorney,” says Edge.

In the fall of 2017, a judge ordered an injunction. This month, another judge provided clarity for Edge and Everett.

In his ruling, US District Judge Ricardo Martinez dismissed that argument that the ordinance violated freedom of speech. However, he outlined the issue of gender discrimination that the ordinance created, writing, “The Dress Code Ordinance prohibits clothing typically worn by women rather than men, including mid-riff and scoop-back shirts, as well as bikinis…There is evidence in the record that the bikini barista profession, clearly a target of the Ordinance, is entirely or almost entirely female. It is difficult to imagine how this Ordinance would be equally applied to men and women in practice.”

Despite the ruling going in her favor, Edge is frustrated.

“The city of Everett has chosen to waste five years, all of the fees for their attorneys, all of the fees for my attorneys, all over putting young women – who have children – out of work,” says Edge.

In a written statement to KIRO 7, Julio Cortez, Everett’s Communication Manager writes, “The City has been engaged in this litigation since 2017 because of the number of young women who reported being forced to perform sexual acts in order to keep their jobs at certain coffee stands. The goal has always been to protect these women from the owners of the stands who were, through intimidation and financial pressure, forcing these young women to perform illegal acts with customers. We are disappointed with the Court’s decision and as we look into next steps, we hope that these young women are protected and respected.”

Cortez tells KIRO 7 that the City of Everett has spent $372,298 defending the ordinance in this case.

Edge claims she’s spent close to two million dollars in legal fees.

“I think it’s worth it because it’s just the satisfaction of knowing that the little guy can stand up to the City of Everett with the deep pocket. And you still have your constitutional rights,” says Edge.