dave-mittlemanHooters is in hot water from a lawsuit brought by two former Hooters waitresses who claim they were fired for being overweight. Civil rights attorney Richard Bernstein represents Cassie Smith and Leanne Convery in lawsuits that claim they were fired as waitresses because they were not thin enough. Mr. Bernstein put it simply when he said that “this really is the cornerstone of civil rights: You can’t discriminate based on appearance.”

20-year-old Cassandra Smith lost 13 pounds from the time she was recruited to be a Hooters waitress and was still told that she needed to agree to lose more weight or she’d lose her job. She is 5’8″ tall and weighs 132 and 1/2 pounds. That gives her a BMI of approximately 20.1, well within the BMI range of “normal” which is from 18.5 to 24.9. After being placed on a 30-day weight probation, she resigned from her job. She claims that the Hooters policy violates Michigan law.

In fact, it probably does. Michigan passed a law in 1976, the only state-wide law of its kind in the entire nation, that prohibits discrimination based on weight. The prohibition was part of a broader civil rights movement to protect the rights of female auto employees and prospective police officers and firefighters who claimed they were denied jobs because of physical standards that favored men. Hooters claims that these waitresses are entertainers and therefore not subject to the prohibitions found in Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Six cities — San Francisco; Birmingham, N.Y.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Washington; and Urbana, Ill. — have adopted their own weight discrimination laws. Hooters may not like the law in certain states, but it’s still the law.