They say you should dress for the job you want — the old adage doesn’t mention being gender appropriate.
Meagan Hunter, 35, was a server at a Chili’s in Phoenix, but is now out of a job after she was passed up for a promotion because she wore jeans and a button-down shirt to a seminar aimed at those looking to become shift managers. Hunter, a single mother and lesbian, wrote in a blog for the ACLU of Arizona, said that after the June 2018 seminar, her manager told her that his boss thought her clothes were “inappropriate.”
Hunter was offered the promotion only if she would change her wardrobe to be more “gender appropriate.”
“I asked him, ‘Are you telling me that I need to have my breasts hanging out to be successful in your company?’” Hunter wrote. “He answered, ‘Not in those words.’” Hunter asked why she couldn't wear a chef-style coat like the other managers and he said because “It’s for boys.”
Hunter told Yahoo that after finishing her shift that day, she went home to reflect on whether she could continue at Chili’s.
“What I wear has nothing to do with my work ethic,” she told Yahoo. “The next day, I quit.”
She added in her blog, “I couldn’t continue to work at a place where my willingness to conform to a stereotype was more important than my job performance. So I left a job that I enjoyed and said goodbye to the coworkers I considered family.”
Hunter later learned from a coworker that she had previously been looked over for a bartender position because the manager “didn’t want a gay girl behind the bar” because she wouldn’t attract the right clientele. When she wrote to Chili’s about her experience, Hunter says the company dismissed her claims because the “manager’s best friend is gay.”
On Wednesday, Hunter filed a complaint against with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming the Chili’s manager discriminated against her on the basis of sex. This filing is the first step in eventually bringing a lawsuit, an ACLU spokesperson told Yahoo. The discrimination Hunter faced also forced her to seek a new job where she’s taken a pay cut and is back at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.
“When all this happened with Chili’s, I was in the process of buying a home for me and my 9-year-old son,” Hunter said. “It’s been a difficult time.”
A Chili’s spokesperson told Yahoo that the company was “alarmed” to hear these allegation and does not “tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our restaurants.”
Chili’s claims that Hunter was not denied a promotion, but was “identified as a high potential Team Member” and told about the dress code for managers, but that “absolutely no mention was made of any need to conform to gender-specific clothing.”
In a post on ACLU’s official blog, senior staff attorney Ria Tabacco Mar cited the 1989 Supreme Court sex discrimination case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins and wrote “When employers punish workers for who they are and what they look like, they lose valuable people like Meagan. That’s not only wrong and bad for business — it’s also against the law.”